I have a small herb garden that is a little.. temperamental. (Maybe that’s because I have a very black thumb, but let’s just blame the garden, shall we?) For a while, I couldn’t keep the oregano from choking out the other herbs- it killed off my thyme completely. Now, the oregano has mysteriously died off and my rosemary is the ruler of the garden, whereas it used to struggle. Through it all, though, basil has been consistently difficult. We live in Florida, which means the winters are quite dry, but moderately warm and usually no more than one night with an overnight low below freezing each year. Summers are very hot, very humid and can be very rainy. When it rains in the summer in Florida, it’s basically a torrential downpour for about 20 minutes to an hour, and then it clears up. You can imagine, for a novice gardener, that it is quite tricky to keep anything alive, with all the flooding and heat and dry spells providing a moving target.
However, I think I finally have a grasp on the basil. I’ve learned that it needs plenty of moisture, but not too much – and that it will burn in the summer sun if I let it get too dry. If the soil is too moist, I get tiny mushrooms and the basil doesn’t like that, either. The most important thing I’ve learned is that basil loves to be cut back.
Because of my temperamental little garden, I’m often trying to invent ways to use up whatever is in abundance. (Rosemary simple syrup for your cocktail, anyone?) Recently, that’s meant cutting back my basil to as small as possible, then using the leaves to make a vinaigrette or pesto. Pesto is good on pasta, but I wanted something new to do with it. This recipe is the result of that need – and it’s so good that I’m willing my basil plant to grow faster just so I can make it again.
You’ll note that fennel seed is not traditional in pesto – however I just really love fennel seed with pork, so rather than miss out, I took a chance and threw it in. It surprised me how well it worked, but if you aren’t a fan of fennel, feel free to leave it out.
- 3-4 oz Pork Loin
- 2 cups of basil, leaves only
- 2-3 cloves garlic, minced
- 1/3 cup pine nuts or walnuts
- 3 Tbs grated Parmesan
- 1 tsp fennel seeds, optional
- 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
- Fingerling potatoes or red potatoes, cut into 1.5” pieces
Make the pesto: In a food processor, grind the nuts and garlic together until you achieve a coarse paste that resembles sand. Add the basil and pulse until evenly chopped and combined. Pulse in the grated cheese and fennel seeds, if using, then slowly stream in the oil while running the processor on low. Taste and season with kosher salt to taste.
Butterfly (spiral) cut the pork: place the pork loin on a large cutting board, short end nearest you. Using a long, sharp knife, make a cut straight down along the length of the pork, about ½”- ¾“ from the right edge. (Or left edge, if you are left-handed.) Stop this cut about ½” – ¾” before you would hit the cutting board. (equal to your first cut) Pull open the flap you’ve created to lay flat on the board. Then, turn your knife so that the blade is perpendicular with the board and begin slicing where the flap meets the rest of the roast, keeping your knife equal distance off the board. As you make cuts, continue to “unroll” the roast onto the board to your left (or right, leftys). When complete, you will have one large flat surface of meat – in roughly a rectangle. If some areas are thicker than others, you can make small slices and push down with your hands to flatten them a bit, or you could use a meat mallet to pound it evenly. Rather than get out an extra tool, I go with the slicing method.
Stuff the pork loin: Salt and pepper both sides of the flattened pork loin, then smear the entire batch of pesto on one side. Starting at one of the short ends, roll the pork loin back up into a log, like a carpet, with the pesto inside. Using kitchen twine, truss the roast to keep it tightly closed. (Go here for a great tutorial on trussing a roast.) If any pesto escaped, smush it back in as best you can, then smear what’s left all over the outside.
Transfer the roast to a ¼ sheet tray or 9” x 13” pan, then refrigerate for at least one hour and up to one day, to allow the pesto to firm up.
Roast: 30 minutes prior to roasting, preheat the oven to 400° and set the roast in its pan out on the counter to come to room temperature. Scatter the potatoes in the pan around the roast, drizzle with a little olive oil, and season with kosher salt and black pepper. Roast the pork to an internal temperature of 145°, which should take anywhere from 40 minutes to an hour, depending on the size of your roast. Check the potatoes when you check your roast – they may finish cooking earlier than the roast and need to be removed and kept warm as the pork finishes. Allow the pork roast to rest for at least 10 minutes before removing the twine, slicing, and serving.