Sundays are made for dishes that bake gently in the oven, filling the house with warmth and delicious aromas that rev the appetite.
“Sunday Casseroles: Complete Comfort in One Dish” (Chronicle Books) is all about dishes like that. The book, which came out in 2014 and of which I received a review copy, is by Betty Rosbottom, a veteran cookbook author and PBS host.
Fish and chips in a casserole? You bet, when the potatoes are scalloped. Risotto in the oven? Sure, when it’s baked with butternut squash, sage and Parmigiano. Mac and cheese? Absolutely, especially in variations with lobster, lemon and tarragon or smoked sausage and country mustard.
“Cider-Baked Pork, Red Cabbage, and Apples” appealed to me because I love the combination of apples and pork, a meat which always plays nicely with the sweetness of fruit.
Pork loin can get dry if cooked too long, but these emerge very juicy. They bake over a bed of tart apples, onions and red cabbage, which give everything a soft, pretty fuchsia hue.
Cider vinegar and actual cider add even more vivid apple flavor.
For me, this was also the perfect opportunity to break into my samples of the new Devoto Orchards Cider. The Devoto family makes the small-batch ciders in Sebastopol from estate-grown apples. Susan and Stan Devoto grow more than 50 varieties of heirloom apples, as well as flowers and pinot noir grapes on their 20-acre farm.
I tried three of their ciders: 1976, Cidre Noir, and Gravenstein, each relatively low in alcohol.
Each is a blend of various apples, though the Gravenstein is 95 percent Gravenstein, with the remaining 5 percent made up of Akane, Burgundy, Hubbardston Nonesuch, Pink Blush, and Pink Pearl. Gravensteins once grew all over Sonoma County. But when growers realized they could make more money putting in wine grapes, Gravensteins fell out of favor, especially because they do not ship well. So a cider that honors that apple is a special thing indeed. It’s semi-dry with a 6.9 percent alcohol level. Gravensteins are beloved in apple sauce. And this cider has that kind of delicate, clean-tasting, pure apple taste.
The dry Cidre Noir has a deep apple flavor, given to the fact that it’s made from heirloom apples that hang on the trees for nearly 7 months. It has a slight green apple finish and enough heft to stand up to substantial food such as bolognese pasta, creamy cheeses, holiday ham, and sauteed peppers and sausage.
The semi-dry 1976 is a blend of the 17 different apples. The name refers to the year the Devotos decided to leave Berkeley to move back to west Sonoma to start the orchard. This cider has a full, rounded taste, given its complex blend.
I used the 1976 to cook the pork dish, which made my house smell like fall in Europe.
Then, I poured myself a glass to enjoy alongside as I tucked into this most apple-icious dish.
Cider-Baked Pork, Red Cabbage, and Apples
1 small head red cabbage
3 tart and firm apples (Granny Smith, Jonathan, or Macoun work well)
5 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 1/2 cups thinly sliced onions
1 1/2 tablespoon sugar
4 1/2 tablespoons cider vinegar
1 tablespoon fennel seeds, crushed
3 cups cider
2 pork tenderloins (about 1 pound each), trimmed of silver skin and excess fat
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
3 tablespoons canola oil
1 tablespoon chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
Arrange a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 375 degrees. Generously butter a 9-ty-13-inch or another shallow 3-quart baking dish.
Quarter and core the cabbage. Cut each quarter crosswise into 1/4-inch wide strips to get 6 cups. (Save any leftover cabbage for another use.) Quarter and core the unpeeled apples, and then cut the quarters lengthwise into 1/4-inch thick slices.
Melt 3 tablespoons of the butter in a large, heavy frying pan over medium heat. When hot, add the cabbage and onions. Saute the mixture, stirring, until just starting to soften, about 5 minutes. Stir in the apples, sugar, vinegar, fennel seeds, and 2 1/2 teaspoons salt and cook, stirring for 5 minutes. Pour in 2 cups of the cider and bring the mixture to a simmer. Reduce the heat to low, cover, and continue simmering until the cabbage and apples are tender, about 20 minutes. Taste the cabbage and season with more salt if needed. Transfer the cabbage mixture, along with any juices, to the prepared baking dish.
Cut each pork tenderloin into 1-inch slices. In a small bowl, mix together 1 teaspoon salt and the pepper. Season the pork slices on both sides with this mixture.
Heat the canola oil in a large, heavy frying pan over medium-high heat until very hot, but not smoking. Add half of the pork slices and brown lightly, 1 minute or more per side. Remove to a dinner plate and repeat with the remaining pork. Add the remaining 1 cup cider to the frying pan and cook until reduced by half, whisking the browned bits on the bottom of the pan into the cider, 2 to 3 minutes or more. Whisk in the remaining 2 tablespoons butter and any juices that have collected on the plate with the pork.
Arrange the pork slices on top of the cabbage mixture. Spoon the reduced cider over the slices. (The casserole can be prepared up to this point 4 hours ahead; cover and refrigerate. Bring to room temperature 1 hour before continuing with the recipe.)
Bake the casserole, uncovered, until an instant-read thermometer registers 145 degrees when inserted into the center of a pork slice, about 25 minutes. Remove from the oven and let the casserole stand for 10 minutes.
Garnish the pork with a sprinkling of parsley before serving.
From “Sunday Casseroles” by Betty Rosbottom
More Cider Recipes to Try: Briased Chicken with Apple Cider, Tarragon and Cream