When it comes to Thanksgiving, I am very much a “traditionalist.” I like my roasted or grilled turkey, the stuffing, the mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, pumpkin pie, etc. I don’t have nearly that same feeling about Christmas dinner. Sure, I am happy with a repeat of Thanksgiving, which often happens in my family, but I am also very happy to change it up. My wife’s family often follows a more European tradition and serves goose, with all the trimmings. Since her father is from Hungary that usually means an Eastern European flair to the meal with lots of sweet and sour dishes, plenty of starches, the giblets showing up in numerous recipes, and wonderful, earthy rye bread.
In my family, when we move away from turkey, we sometimes do a standing rib roast (aka Prime Rib), one of my favorites, but in recent years we have done a lot of pork, usually in the form of a Crown Roast. It usually gets filled with a stuffing of cornbread, sausage, dried cherries and pecans. This has become a favorite of ours and looks quite festive and elegant gracing our holiday table. Unfortunately, if you want to do a crown roast you either need to be feeding an army or be prepared for plenty of leftovers as these things are quite large. Luckily pork is very versatile and there are numerous, smaller cuts that can be turned into an elegant centerpiece for your Christmas dinner.
Pork loin is an obvious choice for a holiday dinner. Roasted, it makes a beautiful looking focal point to the holiday groaning board. It can be purchased is any size from 1 pound to about 8 or 9 pounds, making it a great choice for just about any size get together. Pork also goes well with many of the dishes people serve at Christmas time, many of which mirror people’s Thanksgiving spreads. To make it even more of a standout, I like to stuff it “pinwheel” style. Sliced and laid out on a platter, surrounded by Rosemary Roasted Potatoes and a few sprigs of fresh herbs, you have a dish that will wow friends and family alike.
Spinach Stuffed Pork Loin
serves 6-8 people
3 pounds Pork loin, boneless
2 slices Bacon, chopped
1 medium Onion, minced
1 package (9 oz) Frozen Spinach, thawed and squeezed dry
2 cups Dried Bread cubes
1 cup Chicken stock
1 each Egg
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese
**Note: In the following pictures I used a 1 1/2 pound piece of pork loin as I was only cooking for 2. When you buy your 3 pound loin it will be approximately twice as long as mine was.
Preheat the oven to 350F. Combine the onion and the bacon in a saute pan and cook over medium high heat until the onions are translucent. Remove from heat. Bring stock to a boil. Place bread cubes in a bowl and pour boiling stock over them. Allow to sit for 5 minutes then add the onion mixture and the spinach. Stir to combine. Set aside to cool for a couple of minutes. Meanwhile cut your pork loin. To do this, make a cut, the length of the loin, about 1/2″ below the fat cap. Cut until you get about 1/2″ from the other side. Cut downwards to within a 1/2″ of the bottom then cut back towards the other side to within a 1/2″ of the side, laying the loin open as you go. You should end up with a relatively large, flat sheet of pork.
Cover the pork with a piece of plastic wrap and they, using a meat tenderizer, pound the pork to make sure it is all an even thickness.
When that is done the the filling should be cool enough to add the egg and Parmesan cheese. Mix well to combine, season with salt and pepper and spread over the pork.
Gently roll the pork loin up again so that the fat cap is back on top. Tie securely with butcher’s twine approximately every 1-1 1/2″, then season with salt and pepper.
Place in a small roasting pan or sheet tray and add about 1/2 cup of water to pan. Place in the oven and roast for approximately 1-1 1/2 hours or until a thermometer, placed in the center of the meat, reaches 150F. Remove from oven, cover with foil and allow to rest for 10-12 minutes. Remove strings, slice and serve.
Do not allow the pork to cook past 150. Carry over heat will cook it a little further and if you cook it too far the pork will be dry. Personally, I pull it out at about 140-145 as I like my pork a little on the pink side, but I know many people are still squeamish about pink pork, though today’s pork is just as safe as beef. The days, when it was necessary to cook pork to dust, are long gone.