I think Parmesan cheese can make anything taste good. Just a sprinkle of cheese won’t do, though. I like to load a heaping mound of Parmesan over pasta, on top of soup, or to anything else imaginable. The nutty taste is too good to resist, and it holds up really well because of its hard texture. So, when I was eating at Fogo de Chao, a Brazilian steakhouse in downtown Chicago, I was excited to see that one of their meat selections was a pork loin completely coated with Parmesan. What would have been very plain tasting pork was covered in a golden brown layer of cheesy goodness, sizzling hot and begging for a fork and knife.
After one bite of that pork, I never wanted pork any other way. The flavor of the cheese ran throughout the entire piece of meat. It had formed a crust that was hard enough to hold its shape, but soft enough to melt into all the crevices of the pork. I could go eat at that restaurant every day, but instead, I decided to get in the kitchen and make my own version. I always loved the combination of pork and apples, as well as cheese and apples, so I figured I’d combine all of them into one fall dish.
I start by searing pork tenderloins to get a nice, golden crust before baking them in the oven. At Fogo de Chao, they roast the pork with the cheese already on it, but I just add it at the end. After letting the tenderloins rest and cutting each into medallions, I toss them with the Parmesan. This way, all four sides of the pork medallions get a nice, even coating. Based on how you want it, you can either broil the medallions so the cheese forms the melted, golden crust. Or, you can skip the broiling step if you like the contrast between hot, juicy meat and cold Parmesan.
I bring in the apple component by sautéing apples with onion and fennel, cooking them until they are soft. This sauté becomes the base for the pork as it roasts. At the very end, I take the apples and vegetables, along with the delicious pork drippings, and puree them. I leave some of them whole to serve alongside the pork. A simple garnish of fennel fronds finishes the dish.
- olive oil
- 2 lbs chopped apple (about 7 medium apples)
- 6 oz chopped yellow onion (about 1 medium onion)
- 6 oz chopped fennel (about 1 fennel bulb)
- 1 teaspoon fennel seed
- 1 teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon black pepper
- 2 lbs pork tenderloin
- Salt and pepper
- 1 cup chicken stock
- 5 oz grated Parmesan cheese
- fennel fronds, to garnish
- Heat a medium pot over medium heat. Coat the bottom of pan with a good amount of olive oil. Add the apples, onion, fennel, fennel seed, salt, and black pepper. Saute until the apples have softened and all of the vegetables are tender.
- Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 350°F. Heat a large pan over medium-high heat and coat the bottom with olive oil. Season the pork loin with a generous amount of salt and pepper. Sear the pork loins on all sides until each is golden brown. Transfer the sautéed apples and fennel to a baking dish and add the chicken broth. Place the pork loins on top and pour the drippings from the pan into the dish. Bake uncovered for 30 minutes. Cover with aluminum foil. Finish cooking until the pork is cooked all the way through, about 10 more minutes.
- Let the pork rest for 10 minutes before cutting it. Meanwhile, blend half of the apples and fennel (along with all of the liquid in the baking dish) until smooth. Reserve the rest as is.
- Add the Parmesan to a large bowl. Cut the pork into medallion-size pieces. Toss each piece of pork in the Parmesan, rolling it and packing the cheese into the meat. Either serve it immediately or broil the pork on high for just a minute so the cheese forms a golden crust.
- Spoon the apple & fennel puree onto a plate. Top with the reserved roasted apples and fennel. Place the pork onto the puree and garnish with fennel fronds.