Friday, September 21, 2012

Pork with Fennel and Caper Sauce

Capers vs Caperberries

We were at a restaurant with friends a while ago and two of the dishes had these green things with long stems that looked like olives but didn't have a pit and tasted like the best olive you ever had.  The chef happened to walk by so my friend Terry asked him what they were.  He replied that they were capers. Well, we know capers and this definitely was much bigger than a caper - more the size of a green olive.  He said they were capers that were left on the bush for a longer time.  I'd seen these things on the olive bar at Whole Foods and they were called caperberries but I had never actually tried them before.

That was enough to get my curiosity going so I researched caperberries when I got home.  Turns out that capers and caperberries come from the same bush but capers are the immature flower buds and caperberries are the fruit (so even the chef didn't actually know!).  Both are usually consumed pickled.  Both have a similar tart, salty burst of flavor although caperberries are more mild.  I found both in the pickle section of my grocery store right next to each other.

If you're curious about the difference, this recipe features them both.  They work ideally in Mediterranean-type recipes with tomatoes and vegetables.  The capers are part of the sauce, and the caperberries are more of a garnish (in my opinion) although they could easily substitute for green olives in any recipe.

If you're not all that curious about caperberries, just leave them out but keep the capers for the sauce - the tartness is an important component of the overall flavor profile with the tomatoes and fennel.  If you're not familiar with fennel, it's a crunchy vegetable with a slight anise flavor that's delicious raw in salads.  I like it equally well when it's sauted  - it becomes very mild and tender.  The important final component of the sauce is the bright note of lemon zest (LOVE lemon). 

I adapted this recipe to use pork tenderloin because it's a favorite of ours, but it would work equally well with pork chops or even a meaty swordfish or tuna steak.  We served it with mashed potatoes but rice or creamy polenta would be great also.  The meal was warm and earthy but light, a perfect fall dinner.

* * click here for a printable recipe * *

Pork with Fennel and Caper Sauce
Serves 4

¼ cup olive oil
1 (1.25 lb) pork tenderloin
¾ teaspoon salt, plus more for seasoning meat
¾ teaspoon black pepper, plus more for seasoning meat
1 large or 2 small fennel bulbs with fronds, cut in half, cored and thin sliced (about 2 cups)
2 large shallots, thin sliced
2/3 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley, divided
½ cup white wine
1 (28 oz) can diced tomatoes with their juices
½ lemon, zested
2 tablespoons capers
Caperberries for garnish, optional

In a large, heavy skillet heat the olive oil over high heat. Season the pork tenderloin with salt and pepper. Add the pork to the pan and brown on top and bottom, about 4 minutes per side. Remove the pork from the pan, cover loosely with foil and set aside.

Add the fennel, shallots, and 1/3 cup parsley to the pan and cook over medium heat until beginning to brown, about 5 minutes. Add the wine. Scrape the brown bits off the bottom of the pan, then add the tomatoes and stir. Add the pork back into the pan between the fennel and tomatoes so it’s mostly submerged in the pan juices. Cover and cook until the fennel is tender and the pork is done, about 12 to 15 minutes.

Place the pork on a cutting board. To finish the sauce, add the lemon zest, remaining 1/3 cup parsley, capers, and ¾ teaspoon each salt and pepper. Stir to combine.

Slice the pork into ½” thick slices and serve with the sauce. Garnish with optional caperberries.

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