In today’s Seasonal Pantry, which you can read here, I talk about the importance of pairing lavender with something sweet–a bit of sugar or honey, even a splash of balsamic vinegar–so that its slightly resinous flavor doesn’t remind us of soap. This is the crucial element when it comes to using lavender successfully in food. It’s also important to use lavender from you own organic garden, someone else’s organic garden, or commercial culinary-grade lavender. The plant is quite resistant to pests but some is still sprayed the pesticides, which you do not want to eat.
Check back here soon, when you will find links to my archives stories about Provence, where lavender grows in great abundance. For now, you’ll find one story, that of my first visit to Provence, here.
Pork Tenderloin with Lavender-infused Polenta and Currant Lavender Sauce • Serves 6 to 8 as a main course
When this dish first appeared in “Polenta” (Broadway Books, 1997), a reviewer called it silly. It may have seemed that way as she read the recipe but a single bite would have shown her otherwise. It’s quite delicious, with layers of flavor that resonate beautifully with each other.
- Currant Lavender Sauce (recipes follows)
- 1/2 cup half and half
- 2 tablespoons culinary lavender
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 2 pork tenderloins, about 1 1/4 pounds each
- Kosher salt
- Black pepper in a mill
- 1 cup coarse-ground polenta
- Grated zest of 1 lemon
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 1/2 cup (about 2 ounces) grated St. George, Vella Dry Jack or Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
- First, make the sauce and set it aside.
- Pour the half and half into a heavy saucepan and bring to a boil. Remove from the heat, add the lavender flowers and sugar, stir until the sugar is dissolved, cover, and set aside for 30 minutes.
- Meanwhile, season the tenderloins all over with salt and pepper, set on a roasting rack in a roasting pan, cover loosely with aluminum foil and set aside briefly.
- Strain the half and half in a bowl and discard the lavender. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
- Pour 4 cups of cold water into a large heavy pot, add 2 teaspoons kosher salt and bring to a boil over high heat. When the water boils, use a whisk to stir it in one direction to create a vortex. Slowly pour the polenta into this vortex, whisking all the while in the same direction. Reduce the heat to medium high and continue to stir until the mixture thickens, about 5 to 7 minutes. Reduce the heat to low and simmer, stirring frequently, until the grains of polenta are very tender; time will vary from about 25 to 45 minutes based on the size of the grain and its age.
- When the polenta has thickened, put the pork into the hot oven and cook for 10 minutes. Use a pastry brush to baste the pork all over with the sauce and continue cooking for 15 minutes more, basting the pork every 5 minutes. Remove the pork from the oven, cover loosely with aluminum foil and let rest from 5 to 10 minutes.
- When the polenta is fully tender, remove it from the heat, stir in the butter, cheese, the lavender-scented half and half and several turns of black pepper. Taste and correct the seasoning.
- To serve, cut the pork into 1/4-inch diagonal slices. Ladle polenta into individual soup plates, top with some of the pork and spoon sauce on top. Enjoy right away.
Currant Lavender Sauce • Makes about 1 ½ to 2 cups
- 1 ½ cups Zante currants
- 1 cup balsamic vinegar
- 1 cup white wine
- ¼ cup culinary lavender
- ½ cup brown sugar, plus more to taste
- Juice of 1 lemon
- Grated zest of 1 lemon
- 1 tablespoon butter
- Put the currants into a medium saucepan, pour the balsamic vinegar over them, and let stand for about an hour.
- Pour the wine into a small saucepan, add the lavender, and set over medium heat; simmer until the wine is reduce by half. Cover the pan, remove from the heat, and let steep for 30 minutes. Pour the wine through a strainer into the currant-vinegar mixture and discard the lavender.
- Add the brown sugar and lemon to the pan with the currant mixture, set over low heat, and simmer gently for 30 minutes. Remove from the heat and let cool.
- Purée the sauce in a blender and strain it through a sieve, pressing and squeezing the pulp to extract as much liquid as possible. Discard the solids, return the strained sauce to the saucepan, stir in the lemon zest and correct for sugar and acid. Add more sugar or more balsamic vinegar to achieve a pleasing balance. Just before serving, warm the sauce thoroughly and swirl in the butter until it is just melted.
- This sauce can be made a day or two in advance and reheated just before serving.