Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Grilled Mediterranean Spiced Pork Chops over Mandarin, Spinach Salad & Roasted Acorn Squash Puree

This dinner was inspired by a recent purchase that has absolutely changed my life! California Mandarins, fresh ones...oh my gosh, if you haven't had them; you are seriously missing out. They are easy to peel, seedless and sweet, perfectly sweet, little gems. I don't normally buy a lot of citrus fruits because they aren't grown locally but I have a two year old and she is a lover of citrus. When you get a two year old to eat anything, you have to go with it. My husband and I have been eating them as is, but they are so delicious I wanted to incorporate them into my weekly recipes. I looked through my pantry found an organic acorn squash, the very last vegetable left from my summer/fall CSA, perfect!  Acorn squash is wonderful with anything citrus, its earthy, slightly nutty and when roasted becomes slightly sweet. These flavors also go well with pork, 2 bone-in pasture raised pork chops to be specific. Now that I was armed with beautiful, local ingredients (yes, yes, minus the citrus) I set to work building a dinner.  I had an orange vinaigrette, made earlier in the week for another recipe, click on the link to get this recipe. I decided since I was using luxurious, fatty pork chops & creamy, buttery roasted squash the perfect accompaniment would be a fresh spinach salad.  The salad incorporates bursts of sweet flavor from fresh mandarin segments, crunchy texture from walnuts and a salty element from shaved Pecorino Romano. It was seriously a match made in heaven, every bite took me on vacation.

I love to make my own seasoning blends at home, its cheaper than buying them already mixed and you can put in what you like and leave out what you don't. I love herbs de Provence, a French grill spice that includes things like: thyme, marjoram, lavender and rosemary. I used all of these flavors in my Mediterranean spice mix for this recipe but I also added in lemon thyme, mandarin zest, salt & fresh ground pepper. I used the lavender very sparingly, my husband is still new to this being a spice and not a flower, and he isn't super crazy about it, but I love the mild floral flavor it gives, sort of like adding vanilla to a dessert. It's an essence you get, not an in your face flavor. This spice mixture I used for both the roasted squash and the pork chops, my husband kept commenting on the hint of citrus in every bite of the pork, he wanted it specifically noted in the blog so no one missed out on this. Needless to say he really liked it!

This recipe serves 2 but can easily be modified to serve more.  Spice mixture & dressing would stay the same.


Spice mixture

1 tsp organic, dried rosemary

1 tsp organic, dried thyme

1 tsp organic, fresh lemon thyme (lemon zest can be substituted here)

1 tsp organic, dried marjoram (oregano can be substituted)

1 tsp organic, dried lavender (optional)

1 tsp sea salt

1 tsp fresh ground pepper

Pork, salad & squash

2 Bone-in, organic, pasture raised pork chops

1 Medium size, organic acorn squash

1 tsp local honey, I use Rulison.

Olive oil, for baking and grilling.

2 Cups organic spinach

2 California mandarin oranges, peeled and segmented.

2 Tbsp walnuts, chopped, mine were roasted & salted.

4 Organic scallions, whites only, chopped.

Pecorino Romano cheese, for shaving over salad.

Sea salt & fresh ground pepper, to taste.

Orange Vinaigrette, click the link for the recipe or see below*


Take your pork chops out of the fridge to come to room temperature, about 30 minutes prior to cooking. This allows them to sear perfectly without overcooking.

Mix all spices together in a small bowl and set aside.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.  Cut the acorn squash in half, scrape out the seeds and place squash on a cookie sheet.  Drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with seasoning mixture and bake, cut side down, for 30 minutes or until soft.

While the squash cooks assemble the salad.  On two plates layer spinach, mandarins, walnuts, scallions and shave the pecorino over the top. Set aside.

When the squash is soft, remove from the oven, scrape the flesh from the skin into a bowl.  Mash in a
drizzle of olive oil, salt, pepper, honey and mix till combined. Set aside in a warm area.

Preheat a grill pan over medium high heat. Season the pork chops with seasoning mixture on both sides, pressing down slightly to make it stick. Drizzle your grill pan with olive oil and sear the pork chops on both sides till golden brown, about 5 minutes a side for medium well, I like my chops pink. Mine were thin, only about 1/2 inch thick, if yours are thicker you will need more time, more like 7 minutes a side. Remove chops from the pan and place on top of your salad. Layer squash on top of the pork chop. Drizzle everything with 3 Tbsp of dressing & serve!

Any leftover spices can be saved in an airtight container for use, up to a year.

* Orange Vinaigrette 

1/2 cup very good quality olive oil
1/3 cup balsamic vinegar
1 tsp dijon mustard
1 Tbsp orange marmalade
2 Tbsp fresh orange juice, about half an orange squeezed
1 tsp orange zest
2 Tbsp water
salt & fresh ground pepper, to taste, I add in a healthy pinch of each

Take a bite of the warm Mediterranean!

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