A Nice Main Course

It's always interesting to me which recipes people choose when flipping through a cookbook -- mine or anyone else's.  What makes us stop at a particular page and say "eureka" -- that's for me?  There are a variety of factors, to be sure.  A compelling title, an interesting combination of ingredients or the ingredients themselves, the ease or difficulty in making the dish, a connection to a taste memory (yearning), something utterly familiar or wildly experimental.  That we all can "taste in our heads" before even lifting a fork to our mouths is what informs that moment. Mmmmmm.....that sounds delicious, we say to ourselves, and immediately write down the list of ingredients and run off to the store.  My "Pork Loin in Cream with Tomatoes, Sage & Gin" is such a recipe.  It helps that there are two gorgeous photos of the dish  -- as a whole roast surrounded by burst grape tomatoes in a burnt umber sauce and as a single generous serving where the fresh sage looks hyper-real.  But perhaps its greatest asset is that it simultaneously feels comforting and a bit exotic.  Many reviewers, and several friends, have chosen this dish as a semaphore of the 325 radically simple dishes in my book.  On Sunday, the New York Times food editor/book reviewer Christine Muhlke chose it, too. The recipe is a riff on an Italian classic in which pork is cooked in milk flavored with juniper.  My version is much simpler but equally divine.   You can augment the sauce by adding some dry white wine in addition to the gin.  It's lovely served with a platter of sauteed broccoli rabe and small potatoes roasted in extra-virgin olive oil and sea salt.  You might begin this meal with a platter of melon draped with the best prosciutto you can afford or a simple salad of wild arugula, toasted pine nuts, slivers of fresh pear and bits of gorgonzola cheese.

You may use a commonplace pork loin that you find in your supermarket, but if you trade up for a fattier, more flavorful heritage pork variety you will get superlative results.

I, too, might make this for dinner -- my friend who canceled a few weeks ago is coming tonight!

Pork Loin in Cream with Tomatoes, Sage & Gin I prepare this in a medium size-paella pan;  you may use any metal flat-bottom shallow ovenproof casserole or skillet that allows for the tomatoes to be arranged in a single layer.

12 large fresh sage leaves 4 large garlic cloves 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil 1-1/2 teaspoons dried Greek oregano (or any dried oregano with flavor!) 2-1/2 pound center-cut pork loin, tied and lightly scored 1 pint grape tomatoes 1/2 cup heavy cream 1/4 cup gin, or more to taste

Process 6 sage leaves, the garlic, oil, oregano and 1/2 teaspoon salt in a mini processor to a fine paste.  Rub all over the pork.  Cover; let sit at room temperature 30 minutes or refrigerate up to 4 hours.  Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.  Heat a very large ovenproof skillet or medium paella pan until very hot.  Brown the pork on all sides, about 5 minutes.  Scatter the tomatoes around the pork; cook 1 minute.  Pour 1/4 cup cream over the pork.  Roast 40 minutes.  Add the 6 remaining leaves, the remaining 1/4 cup cream, and the gin.  Roast 14 to 20 minutes longer, until tender.  Transfer the pork to a cutting board.  Place the pan on the stovetop and boil the sauce, adding more gin, salt, and pepper, until slightly reduced, 1 minute.  Slice the pork and serve with the sauce.  Serves 6