Tuesday, 26 June 2012 | 26 comments

The grand gesture

Potlucks are our “new” thing. I know that you probably already understand that they’re fantastic, so forgive me for making old news new again. It took me a very long time to throw a potluck dinner. Somehow, I find it difficult to cede most of the control over the meal to others when it happens in my own home. This is bizarre. I know. Now that we’ve crossed over to the potluck side of things, though, I’m pretty sure these suppers will be a mainstay. We have a good record going.There’s a little Bon Appétit essay by the Canal House ladies, Melissa Hamilton and Christopher Hirsheimer, from last fall. A friend asks them how they accomplish effortless entertaining, and the answer, they reply, is “simple: we go for the grand gesture.” One dish that doesn’t take too much attention while it’s cooking and serves many. It struck me that the grand gesture can be my answer to a potluck: serve a big main dish, and then rely on others for sides and salads. They might not be well-matched, exactly, but at least there’s an anchor point.Missing from my culinary experience is a depth of knowledge of cooking large cuts of meat. So when we decided to celebrate the solstice on Saturday evening, I decided that the grand gesture for this potluck would be a stuffed pork loin roast. This is exciting for a lot of reasons, notably because there’s an absence of flesh-recipes on this site thus far—up there is the debut of a photo of raw meat—but also because I had to learn all kinds of new things, like butterflying and stuffing and rolling up a five-pound pork loin. It felt like a grand gesture, indeed, but was virtually effortless in that I prepared in that morning, put it in the fridge, and started roasting it before anyone arrived. Somewhere along the line, the party became Midsummer Night’s Dream-themed, and the slow-roasting pork loin gave us time to deck out the dining room in greenery. It was a late night, with a bonfire to cap it all off. I left the following morning to run errands, stepping over sleeping bodies of folks with whom I’m comfortable enough to leave to fend for themselves, kitchen floor strewn with now-wilting leaves, mud tramped in from the night before, a collection of waiting-to-be-recycled empties on the kitchen counter. I returned home and found them on the porch, eating leftover cherry tomatoes and bread from the night before. It was a quiet, mildly hungover afternoon. They watched 40-Year-Old Virgin.

We puttered around, cleaning up, making zucchini bread, and I would gaze around every once in awhile at these people. They listen attentively to a candlelit performance of Puck’s closing monologue from A Midsummer Night’s Dream and don wreaths on their heads all night—-and then feel content sprawled on the couch watching Steve Carrell get his chest waxed. These are the people I love, the people who are not too much one thing but are lots of bits of everything. They, of all, deserve those grand gestures.

Pork loin roast stuffed with mustard greens, red onions, & preserved lemons

The butterflying, stuffing, and roasting instructions were cobbled together from several stuffed pork loin recipes. The stuffing was necessitated by some giant mustard greens in the garden and a red onion kicking around in the pantry—the flavors here are really nice.

You will need

1 boneless pork loin roast, 3-5 pounds (this cut is relatively inexpensive even when nicely sourced, so do your best to find happy pigs)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 red onion, chopped
1 clove of garlic, crushed and chopped
1 pound mustard greens, stiff ribs and stems removed and leaves roughly torn into 1-inch pieces
1/4 cup preserved lemon, finely chopped
Salt and pepper


  1. In a large saucepan or skillet, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the red onion and sauté, stirring occasionally, until it softens and begins to turn translucent. Add the garlic and sauté another minute or so. Add the mustard greens—in batches if they all don’t fit at once—and toss them into the oil, onion, and garlic. Once all the mustards are added, cook them down until they are wilted to about a quarter of their original size, but still bright green. Remove the pan from heat, and stir in the preserved lemons.

    Rinse the pork roast and pat very dry. To butterfly the roast, hold it very firmly with one hand on the top wile slicing, inch by inch, through the middle of the roast lengthwise with a sharp chef’s knife. Don’t try to cut too much at once into the pork, or it will be uneven when you open it up. When you are about an inch from the other side of the pork roast, stop cutting. The meat should open up, lengthwise, like a book, and lay flat.

    Liberally rub the inside of the butterflied roast with kosher salt. When the mustard green mixture is no longer hot, spread it evenly on the roast, leaving a free inch or so on the outside edge. Starting on one edge, carefully and tightly roll the roast up, pushing filling back in as necessary, until the roast is completely rolled up, pinwheel style, with the stuffing inside. Leaving the seam down on a cutting board or platter, use butcher twine to tie the stuffed roast together, as in the first photo. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.

    Preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.

    Heat a heavy bottomed, ovenproof casserole or roasting pan over medium heat. Brown the roast, carefully, on all sides, until some of the fat is rendered, about 4-5 minutes a side.

    Transfer the roast to the pre-heated oven. Roast until the internal temperature reaches 145 degrees Fahrenheit, about 1-2 hours, depending on the size of your roast. Start taking its temperature at 40 minutes to get an idea of how fast it’s going.

    After it reaches 145 degrees, remove the roast from the oven, tent it with foil and set it aside to rest, anywhere from 10 minutes to 30 minutes. It will stay hot.

    Slice the pork roast into 1/2 to 1-inch slices and serve.

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§ 26 responses to The grand gesture

  • Jen

    I love this! About how many people did you serve with that roast?! I always stress out about having enough, then wind up with enough leftovers for an army.

    • Hi Jen,
      We served about 8 with it, but that was with lots of supplementary food, and also with leftovers for an army. I imagine it could serve up to ten with fewer side dishes. Thanks for stopping by!

  • I love this! It so reminds me of my DC days when I’d throw these huge dinner parties in my tiny apartment or my boyfriend’s row house in Mt. Pleasant (with of course people often sleeping over … so fun) … I also always had an ‘anchor’ piece which formed the basis of the meal, though I never called it that myself, and we’d sit eat and (eat!) and drink until the wee hours. As an aside: y’all definitely know how to throw a party! :)

  • I think we all need a few grand gesture recipes in our box, and your pork roast looks fantastic! The midsummer night’s dream theme is so whimsical and fun too.

  • This is beautifully written. What a fun experience. Sounds like you have an amazing group of friends. We do a potluck Thanksgiving every year at my friends house. They make a turkey and everyone else signs up for a side/dessert/drink. It always works out great. Less work on the couple hosting. Take the pressure off I think. Great photos of all the fun!

  • What a great way to drain the fear/pressure of hosting a larger get-together. I’ve been thinking of inviting our neighbors over for a casual dinner, but keep making the excuse that it’s so complicated to feed a crowd. But one superstar dish. That I can manage. Thanks for a lovely idea.

  • this is awesome. it encapsulates the things in life that are important to me. friends nourish.

  • What a lovely post. Also, looks like a great time. :)

  • Oh, this looks wonderful. I am also unschooled in preparing large meats – roast chicken and hamburgers on the grill are about all I’m comfortable with. I did attempt a pork loin a year ago, with success, and you’re inspiring me to try again.

    Also, this dinner party! How wonderful. What a lovely community of friends you have.

  • Gosh, that sounds about the most perfect weekend I could imagine! We hosted a potluck at our home recently as we played a hilarious card game and we got so into the game that I kept forgetting about the food. People just went into the kitchen and brought things out randomly, it was quite a lovely free for all! Still, I’m inspired now after reading about your meal to do something more substantial next time. I love the idea of Puck’s monologue around a campfire – just lovely.

  • Sarah, this is so wonderful—love it. It’s a lot to tie Steve Carrell getting his chest waxed to Puck’s monologue. Beyond that, there are so many poseurs out there right now who attempt to forcibly create the concept of the super-intimate gathering for public, aspirational consumption: yours was quite real. And I loved being there with you, if only vicariously. x

    • Elissa, are you implying that this isn’t aspirational?! Ha :)

      In seriousness—wouldn’t Shakespeare have written screenplays like “40 Year Old Virgin” in today’s day and age? His comedies (like Midsummer) are bawdy and drunken and hilarious; not to mention a bit déclassé in his time. So maybe it’s not such a stretch for them to be put together.

      I’m glad you enjoyed it; someday the party together will be direct experience instead of vicarious.

      • I would love that.
        Not aspirational? I’m planning the pork roast for next weekend……

        • I am scheming as to how I can get an invite to your next grand gesture party. I will be happy to help out before hand and collect empties afterwards, just to enjoy the glow and laughter. I imagine there is a lot of both.

          And if I could have a seat between Elissa and Anne, I can’t imagine anything better.

          Watch out, Sarah. We may be landing on your doorstep soon. Mention of firepit put it over the top, in the best way possible.

          But mostly I love how you bring to life all that feels essential and sacred to me. Love of community, gathering, feeding, laughter. You light up the short night.

  • I absolutely loved this; it made me miss my closest friends and the way we used to do it up back in the day. Truth be told, we can still do it up — we just don’t have the chance as often as we used to.

  • Sarah,

    This looks wonderful! I also like to do one big dish and the rest pot-luck style. (Although I always do an appetizer because I like to put something out when people arrive and nine times out of ten the appetizer-bringer is late ;)

    One of my favorite casual summertime things to make is pulled pork in the slow cooker… so easy and it’s a crowd-pleaser.

    Carly (a new reader!)

  • Those flavourings with pork sound beyond delicious, and summery-fresh. Shakespeare himself would approve! It looks like such fun, your gathering. You can see laughter in the pictures.

    I have been trying to work out how to host a Christmas (I know, but we have to save up for it) dinner for our closest friends and family,(about 16 people) in our small flat, using my small oven and four small burners. This is obviously how I should do it, thank you for the inspiration.

  • oh this mini magazine is just stunning! i’m going to try each and every recipe as well. the food looks fantastic!

  • whoops – left the comment on the wrong post – sorry about that!

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