- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 20, 2008

A few days ago, I invited a young couple with a 6-month-old baby to come to dinner. The new mother asked if they could bring the little one, who, she assured me, would sleep through the evening.

I couldn’t wait to see their son and encouraged her not to get a baby sitter. Then, with some hesitancy, she mentioned that she was trying to lose the weight she had gained in pregnancy. Too polite to make a request, my friend, I knew, was hoping the meal would not include dishes laden with calories.

It took a while, but eventually I devised a menu that I felt would help this young woman regain her figure. The main course would be a pork loin served with carrots, turnips and Savoy cabbage.

For this entree, I rubbed a boneless pork loin with thyme, crushed fennel seeds, salt and pepper, then placed the meat in the fridge for several hours.

Next, I quickly blanched some carrots, turnips and cabbage. Before cooking the meat, I browned it and studded it with garlic slivers that had been tossed in olive oil along with some of the seasoning used for the rub.

I surrounded the roast with blanched carrots and turnips, then roasted it for an hour.

Before serving, I quickly sauteed the cabbage in a little butter.

The sliced pork was served on a bed of beautiful Savoy cabbage leaves surrounded by the medley of colorful vegetables.

Pork today is bred to be much leaner than in the past and often lacks taste. I added flavor back two ways: by coating the meat generously with a rub and by studding it with garlic.

The roast turned out to be an excellent choice for entertaining. Most of the prep was done ahead, so at roasting time, the meat needed only to be browned and studded with garlic, then popped into the oven with the carrots and turnips.

The cabbage took just 5 minutes to saute at the last minute, and voila, this delectable all-in-one entree was ready. At the table that evening, I noticed the new mother taking seconds — while her son slept peacefully nearby.

Roast pork loin with carrots, turnips and Savoy cabbage

1½ tablespoons dried thyme leaves

1½ teaspoons kosher salt plus extra as needed

1½ teaspoons coarsely ground black pepper

3/8 teaspoon fennel seeds, crushed

A 2-pound center-cut boneless pork loin (4 to 5 inches in diameter), trimmed and tied

3/4 pound (4 medium) carrots

3/4 pound (5 small) turnips

A 2½ pound head Savoy cabbage with several attractive outer leaves

3½ to 4½ tablespoons olive oil, divided

2 large garlic cloves peeled and cut into thin slivers

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

Mix together thyme, salt, pepper and fennel seeds in a small bowl. Remove and set aside 2 teaspoons of this mixture. Pat remaining rub over all surfaces of the pork. Wrap the pork tightly in plastic wrap or place in a self-sealing bag and refrigerate 6 hours or overnight.

Peel carrots and cut on the diagonal into ½-inch-thick slices. Peel turnips, halve lengthwise, then cut into ½-inch-thick wedges. Remove attractive outer leaves from the cabbage and cover and refrigerate them. Quarter the cabbage, remove cores, then slice each quarter into ½-inch-thick strips, discarding any thick, tough veins.

Bring a large saucepan of lightly salted water to a boil over high heat. Add carrots and turnips. Cook until just tender, about 6 minutes for the turnips and 8 minutes for the carrots. As vegetables are done, remove with a slotted spoon, drain and pat dry.

Add the sliced cabbage to the same pot and cook until tender, about 5 minutes. When done, transfer it to a colander and place under cold running water to cool, then pat dry. (Carrots, turnips and cabbage can be prepared 1 day ahead; cover and refrigerate.)

To roast pork, arrange a rack at center position and preheat oven to 350 degrees. Add 1½ tablespoons olive oil to a large, flameproof roasting pan set over medium high heat. When oil is quite hot, brown pork on all sides, 5 to 6 minutes.

Remove roast from the pan. Place 1 teaspoon of the herb mixture, 1 tablespoon olive oil, and the garlic slivers in a small bowl and stir to coat garlic well. Make small slits on all sides of the browned pork and insert garlic slivers.

Return roast to roasting pan, and scatter carrots and turnips around it. Season vegetables with remaining herb mixture and drizzle with 1 to 2 tablespoons olive oil.

Roast until a meat thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the meat reads 150 degrees, about 50 to 60 minutes. Remove pan from oven and cover roast and vegetables with foil.

Heat butter in a large, heavy skillet set over medium heat. When hot, add cabbage and saute, stirring, until warm, 4 to 5 minutes. Season with salt to taste.

Arrange several cabbage leaves on a platter. Cut pork into 1/4-inch-thick slices and arrange overlapping on platter. Garnish meat with the cabbage, carrots and turnips. Makes 4 to 5 servings.

Betty Rosbottom is a cooking school director and author of “Big Book of Backyard Cooking” (Chronicle Books).

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