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Fall is prime time for roasting

| Saturday, Oct. 13, 2012, 8:59 p.m.
Joseph Erdos
Lemon-Thyme-Marinated Pork Tenderloin. Credit: Joseph Erdos

What cooking method is more primal than roasting? When humans first used fire to prepare food, it was by roasting over an open pit. Today, we simulate this method of indirect cooking in the oven, achieving the best taste by concentrating flavors, retaining interior moisture and creating a beautiful brown exterior. In gastronomy, this caramelization is known as the Maillard reaction, which is the basic chemical reaction all food undergoes when cooked. But the cave people didn't care how sugars reacted with amino acids; all they knew was that fire made things taste good.

In the fall, I roast almost anything: chicken, beef, pork, vegetables. One of my favorite childhood memories is eating my Aunt Kathy's crown roast, where the entire bone-in pork resembles a crown after the bones are trimmed and the loin is pinned or tied to create a circle. Since then, I've never forgotten how elegant a pork dinner can be.

Now, the tenderloin is my favorite cut of pork for many reasons. It's not only lean and flavorful, but it's also inexpensive and easy to work with. Either roasted whole in the oven or cut into medallions and seared in a pan, the tenderloin is, as its name implies, tender. And the best part is, because there's no bone to deal with, the meat cooks very quickly, making it a great choice for weeknight family dinners.

In this recipe, the tenderloin is marinated in a wonderful combination of thyme, lemon zest and juice, garlic and mustard. Thyme, a preferred herb for roasting, brings out the best flavors in the meat.

Nothing makes a better accompaniment to roasted meat than roasted vegetables. Root vegetables such as carrots, beets, potatoes, pumpkins and squashes all taste better after roasting at high heat. Simply toss cubed vegetables in salt, pepper and oil before roasting, and all the earthy flavors will be there in the finished product. Sometimes, pumpkins and squashes are improved by a bit of sweet. Butternut squash, one of the most popular vegetables for roasting, is enhanced by a bit of brown sugar and maple syrup. I add a palmful of sage halfway through the roasting process to add another layer of earthiness and pungency.

Special instruction: The pork tenderloin can be roasted on the same pan as the squash. Add the pork after the squash has roasted for 20 minutes. That way, the squash and the pork will finish at the same time.

Joseph Erdos is writer for www.oneforthetable.com.

Lemon-Thyme-Marinated Pork Tenderloin

1 pork tenderloin (about 1 pound)

1 lemon, zested and juiced

3 tablespoons olive oil

4 garlic cloves, minced

1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves

1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

Coarse sea salt

Freshly ground black pepper

In a large, resealable plastic bag, combine the pork, lemon zest and juice, olive oil, garlic, thyme and mustard. Season with salt and pepper. Seal the bag while pressing to remove the air. Let the pork marinate in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours or overnight.

Heat the oven to 400 degrees.

Remove the pork from the marinade, scraping of any bits of garlic and thyme. Season with salt and pepper. Warm the olive oil in an ovenproof saute pan over medium heat. Sear the pork on all sides until lightly browned. Pour the marinade over the pork and place it in the oven. Roast for 20 minutes or until an instant-read thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the meat reads 140 degrees. Allow the pork to rest for 10 minutes covered with aluminum foil before carving and serving.

Makes 4 servings.

Maple-Roasted Butternut Squash

1 medium butternut squash (about 2 pounds), peeled and cut into 12-inch pieces

2 tablespoons light-brown sugar

3 tablespoons maple syrup

3 tablespoons olive oil

Coarse sea salt

Freshly ground black pepper

14 cup fresh sage leaves

Heat the oven to 400 degrees.

Combine the squash, sugar, maple syrup and oil on a rimmed baking sheet. Season with salt and pepper. Toss to coat. Roast squash for 20 minutes. Scatter sage leaves on top and continue to roast for 20 minutes or until tender.

Makes 4 servings.

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