Pork Fillet with Fennel and Apple Salad

Pork Fillet with Apples, Fennel & Creamed Feta

My previously blogged easy pork fillet recipe has been a popular page over the last month so let’s revisit this excellent cut of meat but cook it in a slightly different way.

This is another recipe I’ve had on my to do list for a couple of years, and it comes from the website of the UK version of Delicious. The choice was actually driven by the fact that I’d picked up a bulb of fennel for just 99c and so I was looking for a way to use it.

I love fennel when it’s handled as little as possible so the light warm salad that accompanies the pork fillet in this dish is a perfect way to showcase the vegetable. This was very much a recipe where the finished product is much greater than the sum of its parts, and it’s also a lot more sophisticated (in both appearance and taste) than it is work to put together.

We had a piece of pork fillet that was about 400g (yes, the original recipe says that will serve 4 – this served 2 + a toddler – perhaps our toddler eats a lot …). Leave the meat in one piece but trim off any sinew. In a bowl mix a small amount of olive oil with one fat, finely chopped clove of garlic and 2 tsp of fennel seeds. Season and add the pork fillet. Ensure the pork is well coated in the mix. I see no reason why you couldn’t do this in advance, but there’s no need to leave the meat marinating.

Heat a little oil in a frying pan and sear the pork on all sides (remember – the pan should be good and hot and no prodding and poking of the meat – it will come away from the pan, even if it’s not a non stick pan, when it’s good and ready). Transfer the pork to a small roasting dish and cook in an oven preheated to 200°C fan. I cooked the pork for 20 minutes, followed by 10 minutes resting time and it was almost spot on (if anything it was a touch over).

While the pork is cooking in the oven, wipe out the frying pan and prepare the salad. Using a mandolin (or slice finely) slice half a medium sized bulb of fennel, and then finely slice a small red apple (you want the red skin so it looks pretty!).

Toast a handful of pine nuts in a separate pan and mix them with the apple and fennel.  Drizzle over some olive oil and lemon juice and add the mix to the pan you used for the pork.  Warm over a gentle heat.

Finally make some creamed feta.  Use 100g of feta (buy Australian!) and begin with 2 tbsp of cream.  Because I used thick pure cream I actually had to add more.  Season and whizzy up in a small food processor or using a stab mixer.  Ideally you want it to be quite loose so you may want to add some milk if your cream is too thick.

To serve, I boiled some potatoes, crushed them on warm plates, spooned over some creamed feta, topped with the apple and fennel mix and finish with the pork, with a bit more creamed feta.

This was absolutely delicious.  The fennel seeds on the pork complemented the fennel in the salad and there was a good balance of flavours and textures (from a texture point of view it’s very important not to overdo the salad – you want it softened and warm but still with a bit of bite).

Definitely a recipe we’ll be using again and again.

Jamie Oliver’s Feta and Spinach Pie

Feta & Spinach Pie

It’s been some pretty horrid weather in Adelaide recently – cold (especially when you don’t have central heating) and wet (yep – the washing’s been hanging on the line for about a week) so what was in order for Sunday night supper was something quick and HOT.

There was another constraint: the huge pile of feta cheese in our fridge that had been bought to make a Greek salad to take to a BBQ that we subsequently couldn’t attend.

Salad out of the question, the natural mate of feta is spinach and I remembered seeing Jamie Oliver do a feta and spinach pie as part of his 30 Minute Meals.

My approach took quite a significant departure from his – mainly because we had less spinach and I suspect a considerably larger pan. As a side note, never ever buy Woolworths Own Brand frozen spinach: not only is it from China but our packet was mostly stalk. It really irritates me that I’m yet to locate an Australian grown frozen spinach. If you know of one, let me know!

Preheat the oven to 200°C.

In a pan, toast off a generous handful of pinenuts – pay attention to them and don’t let them burn!

In a bowl, whisk 4 eggs before adding about 200g of crumbled (or finely diced) feta. If you buy your feta from the supermarket you will most likely find that the deli counter sells a selection and you can buy Australian feta much much more cheaply than you’ll buy anything that’s prepackaged. At our supermarket, the deli product is also much better than the packaged stuff, so it’s a win all round.

Add the pine nuts, a pinch of oregano, a pinch of cayenne pepper, a grating of nutmeg, black pepper to taste and a glug of olive oil (if you want to measure, probably about 1tbsp). Finish by adding the zest of about half a lemon. Don’t miss the lemon zest!

Cook the spinach off in a pan. If you’re using frozen spinach (I used a 250g pack) you want to cook the water out, and if you’re using fresh, you want to wilt it so it’s soft. Allow the spinach to cool a little and then stir into the egg mix.

The bit I really like about this recipe is Jamie’s approach to the filo pastry. You know how working with filo can be a real bore … keep it covered with a damp towel, melt butter and brush the sheets and generally spend all afternoon faffing about. None of that with Jamie (well, we’d hardly expect that, would we?).

Take a large sheet of baking paper, sprinkle it with olive oil and then rub the oil all over it. Layer the baking paper with your filo pastry, rubbing olive oil between the layers (do this with your hands – it is so much quicker than trying to use a brush). Now, overall you want at least three layers of pastry but you’re likely to have to overlap sheets to cover the whole of the paper. Try to keep the overlapping to a sensible minimum though – you don’t want 6 (or even 9) sheets of pastry in some parts and only three in others.

When the baking paper is covered, pick the whole lot up and put it in a large, high sided frying pan. There should be a generous overhang. Pour the egg mixture in to the pastry case and fold the overhanging pastry away from the paper and across the top of your pie. You don’t need to fold it neatly – allow it to finish with bits of pastry sticking up: that looks kind of cool.

Now, cook the pie for a few minutes on the stove so that the bottom starts to cook and crisp up. Literally, we are talking about a few minutes here … don’t do what I did, which was wander off and start doing other things, because the pastry can (and will!) start to burn quite easily. Then put the pan in the oven to finish cooking – it will take about 20 minutes and the pastry should turn golden.

Because the pie is cooked on baking paper, it will be easy to slide off on to a plate. However, if, like me, you need to do some surgery on the base, it’s just as easy to flip the pie over. Fortunately, the layers of filo pastry and a palette knife meant I could remove the burnt bits easily, leaving us with a very tasty dinner. Had the base been shortcrust there’s no way I could have rescued our dinner!

Andy rightly pointed out that this would be brilliant made in smaller pans for an entrée and I think you could definitely do something canapé sized using something like a minced pie tin.

The most important thing though is not to skip on the lemon zest – this noticeably lifts the flavour of the whole dish. With all the cheese and egg having a little something cut through that richness is just perfect.