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De la cuisine: Autumnal Feast

Oysters, roasted pork loin and cranberry tart make a cozy meal for cooler temps

Pork loin tip: Calvados is an apple brandy from the Normandy region of France. It can be a bit pricey, and since you need only ¼ cup, regular brandy will work just fine.

PICTURED, ABOVE
Rather than offer dinner rolls, you can opt to garnish the soup when serving with crispy croutons. These may be stored in an airtight container (after cooling completely) for up to 2 days.
If there are no fresh cranberries available, buy frozen cranberries  and place them on several layers of paper towels to allow them to leach out, then pat dry if necessary.
Select firm apples such as Honey Crisp, Fuji or Gala for this application.

Summer, my favorite season, has come and gone. No more casual suppers on the patio. It’s time for indoor gatherings featuring heartier fare.

When the cooler autumn days arrive, I like to host a sit-down dinner with the table set with my mother’s sterling silver, china and crystal. If there’s a nip in the air, a fire in the fireplace makes for a cozy evening on Bayou Teche. The bald cypress trees have showered their leaves to the ground making a sienna-hued carpet along the banks, and we often hear the hooting of owls after the sun makes an early descent.

The menu is simple but on the hearty side — a creamy soup with freshly shucked oysters for the first course, a main course of roasted pork loin flavored with Calvados, and cranberry tart for dessert.

This is a good opportunity for me to use Mama’s collection of demitasse spoons from around the world, and her set of demitasse cups and saucers that I rarely take out of storage. We set the mood with music by Harry Connick, Jr. and Frank Sinatra.


STARTER

Cream of Artichoke and Oyster Soup

Preheat oven to 350 F. Place 2½ cups cubed white bread in a large mixing bowl and drizzle generously with olive oil. Toss to coat evenly. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper and toss again. Place croutons on a sheet pan and bake for 10 to 12 minutes, or until crisp. Remove from oven and cool completely before using.  

In a large saucepan, melt 1 stick (8 ounces) butter over medium heat and add ½ cup plus 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour. Whisk for 3 to 4 minutes or until mixture thickens slightly.

Add ¾ cup chopped onions and cook, stirring, until just clear, about 5 minutes. Slowly add 2 quarts chicken stock, whisking, and simmer for 10 minutes. Add 2 cups chopped and drained artichoke hearts or bottoms (packed in water) and 6 ounces heavy cream and simmer for 5 minutes. Add 2 pints freshly shucked oysters and their liquor and simmer until the edges curl, 3 to 4 minutes. Season with salt, freshly ground black pepper and Tabasco to taste. Serve warm.

Makes 6 to 8 servings


MAIN COURSE

Pork Loin with Apples, Cider and Calvados

1     (4½ to 5 pound) pork loin, trimmed
1     tablespoon all-purpose flour
¼     teaspoon cayenne
        salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
2     teaspoons finely chopped rosemary
4     tablespoons butter
3     cups chopped yellow onions
1     tablespoon minced garlic
5     firm apples, cored and quartered
½     cup hard cider
¼     cup Calvados (apple brandy)

Preheat the oven to 325 F. Tie pork loin at two-inch intervals with kitchen twine to hold its shape. In a small bowl, combine flour, cayenne, salt and pepper and rosemary. Rub this mixture evenly all over the loin.  

Heat two tablespoons of butter in a large heavy skillet and sear meat over high heat, turning often until evenly browned.
Transfer loin, with the pan juices to a large baking pan. Scatter onions and garlic around the roast. Cut up remaining butter and distribute evenly over vegetables. Cover with foil and place in oven.

Bake for 45 minutes, then add the apples and the cider to the pan. Baste everything with pan juices. Cover and cook for 30 minutes more. Increase oven temperature to 400 F and remove foil. Baste and cook for another 15 minutes. Remove from oven and transfer the loin to a cutting board. Carefully remove twine and let stand for 10 minutes.  

Meanwhile, transfer onions and apples to a platter. On top of stove, reduce the pan juices by half.  Warm Calvados and carefully pour into the pan. It should flame, then die down. Keep a pan lid nearby in case the Calvados flares up.  Simmer the sauce while you slice the pork loin. Arrange meat over apples and onions and serve with the sauce.

Makes 8 to 10 servings


THE DESSERT

Cranberry Crumb Tart

Serve the tart with sweet whipped cream or a scoop of vanilla ice cream for a festive touch.

Preheat oven to 375 F. In a large bowl, combine 1½ cups all-purpose flour and 1¾ cups of sugar. Cut in 1½ sticks cold unsalted butter, cut into 1-inch cubes, until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Continue cutting until mixture forms nickel-size clumps that crumb easily.  

In a medium-size bowl, combine ¾ cup sugar (or more if you want it sweeter) with ½ teaspoon salt. Add 6 cups fresh cranberries, rinsed, drained and picked over (about two 12-ounce bags) and toss to coat well.

Spoon cranberries into the prebaked tart shell (visit acadianaprofile.com to get our recipe to create a tart shell from scratch), mounding slightly in the center. Using your fingers, lightly squeeze pieces of crumb topping and drop gently over the berries. Do not press the topping into fruit.

Bake until the topping is golden brown and fruit is bubbling around the edges, about 40 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool on a rack. Unmold tart and place on a serving platter. Serve at room temperature.

Makes 1 tart to serve 8 to 10


 

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