During winter, when the snow covers my small herb garden outside in the farmyard, the memories of the fresh herbs bunches picked from the pots just before cooking are very far. On Sunday, though, I did a little magic, inspired by an ancient herb garden, that of the Benedictine monks of the Glastonbury Abbey, Somerset, England.
On our journey back to London from the picturesque West Country we stopped to visit the ruins of the Glastonbury Abbey, a mystic and mysterious place, a coveted destination for me, a huge fan of the Avalon cycle since I was a teenager.
Apparently, at the end of the XII century the Benedectine monks discovered in the Glastonbury graveyard the remains of the tombs of King Arthur and Guinevere. Apparently, the abbey was founded by Joseph of Arimathea, who arrived from Orient carrying not only a hawthorn that still blooms twice year, for Easter and Christmas day, but also of the legendary Holy Grail, which could still be buried there. Apparently, that place, the Glastonbury Tor and the surrounding foggy lands, were Avalon. Apparently.
Walking on a land so full of legends, I was attentive to every detail, from the twisted trunks of ancient trees to the Benedictine monks’ herb garden, neatly organized with cooking herbs and healing plants, where I read the explanation and the uses of each herb.
I was surprised when I read, beside a few stalks of calamint, that this herb was used primarily to roast meat. In Tuscany calamint immediately recalls mushrooms, preferably porcini, as in this fresh spelt pasta with dried mushrooms dressing I made a few months ago.
After the visit of the Abbey, we went in search of a pub to celebrate the glorious ritual of the British Sunday roast, to get completely inside the part and fight the bitter cold and the drizzling and freezing rain coming down from a leaden sky.
But we found a lovely warm and cozy Tea House and we forgot our purpose to celebrate the Sunday roast ritual, ordering for the last time before coming back home my beloved clotted cream, one of my many weaknesses, postponing the Sunday roast to a date to be arranged.
Back home I found the snow waiting for me, so much snow that covered all my last herbs left from the winter in the yard. But I couldn’t stop thinking about the missed Sunday roast.
So, in an alchemy manner, I crushed in a mortar all the dried herbs that I would have used along with calamint, savory and Siena tarragon, I added a few grains of black pepper and a few juniper berries to disguise a simple pork loin with game scents, inspired by the magic of the Avalon times and the smells of my homeland.
It’s amazing how a few dried herbs and a few juniper berries can turn one of the usual Sunday meat dishes into a roast worth of a medieval castle, juicy and flavourful, with a slight hint of wood and resin.
- 750 g of boneless pork loin
- 1 teaspoon of dried savory
- 1 teaspoon of dried calamint
- 1 teaspoon of dried tarragon
- 5 black peppercorns
- 3 juniper berries
- 2 teaspoons of coarse salt
- Salt and pepper
- 5 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
- 1 knob of butter
- 125 ml dry white wine
Crush in a mortar the dried herbs with black pepper, juniper berries and coarse salt, until you get a fine powder.
Cut with a sharp knife the meat at a centimetre from the top surface, so that you can almost open your piece of meat like a book (check the photos to see how I made the incision).
Fill generously the incision with the pesto of herbs, spices and salt. Drizzle with a tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil.
Tie the pork with a long stretch of butcher's twine, to prevent the meat from opening and to have a more compact piece of meat, allowing an easier and evenly cooking.
Rub the meat with ground black pepper and salt.
In a cast iron pot pour the remaining 4 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil and add a knob of butter. Heat the olive oil over medium flame and when the butter has melted place the meat into the hot olive oil. Brown the pork for about 2 minutes on each side or until golden brown.
Pour the white wine over the meat and after a few seconds cover the pot with a lid.
Cook the meat for 25 minutes with the lid over medium heat, checking from time to time to prevent it from sticking to the bottom.
When the gravy is thick, remove the meat from the heat and let it stand covered or wrapped in aluminum foil for about ten minutes before serving. Another way to check whether the meat is ready is to check the internal temperature: in the case of pork meat it should reach about 72°C at the core. Remove the meat when it is about 70°C and let it rest wrapped in aluminium foil.
Serve the pork loin, cut into thick slices, with a side of roasted potatoes, flavored with the same herbs you used for the meat or with the herbs you prefer.
Before coming home permanently with my mind, let me share with you the last part of my trip to England, with some pictures of our weekend in the West Country. Let’s start with the Glastonbury Abbey ruins and King Arthur and Guinevere tombs.
Then the coastal village of Lynmouth, with a yesteryear charm of maritime resort.
The most exciting part of the weekend, the fantastic Exmoor National Park, lit by a golden light, with the adorable Exmoor ponies, which are definitely photogenic.
Finally, some photos of the afternoon walk along the canal near Tiverton.
Check also Sarka’s blog for a stunning photo report of our weekend, the photos seem taken directly from the National Geographic, isn’t it?