The pork loin I braised in red wine last Tuesday night was pretty freaking delicious. I can say this because most of the credit goes to my coworker — remember the one who was plotting her own pork and lentil stew in the slow-cooker while I was plotting drumsticks? After she told me that one, it was on the brain for 24 hours and I knew the only way to get it off the brain would be to try out a version of the pork stew for myself. The problem? I didn’t own a slow cooker. (Well, not true. I own one, but it is in a box deep in the bowels of our basement, and last time I remember using it, I think it was missing a crucial piece, like a lid.) I was working from home the day I decided to tackle the recipe in my Dutch Oven and began cooking just as the girls were scattering their math workbooks on the kitchen table to start homework.
What’s for dinner? asked Abby as soon as she heard the loin hit in the oil.
This can be such a loaded question. When I’m making something new for the girls — which is fairly often — and there’s a good chance that the unfamiliar name of this dinner will set off some whining, sometimes I just lie and say I don’t know yet. But other times, when dinner is simmering away on the stovetop, and an oniony aroma is in the air, I opt for the truth.
Some sort of pork with beans…and maybe kale, I told her.
I don’t like beans! And then, for the next two hours, it was all Do we have to have pork with beans? and Can’t you make those chicken wings again? and Can you make me something else if I don’t like it?
I hate this scenario. The whole point of dinner — the whole point of this site actually — is to get people excited about sitting down to eat. And what killed me is that I knew Abby would love this meal if she had the right attitude. But she couldn’t picture it, so it scared her. I get it — for the longest time, that’s exactly how I felt about J.Lo on American Idol.
I needed a game changer. I needed Tater Tots.
Abby had hand-selected a bag of them from Whole Foods a few weekends earlier and hardly a day had gone by when she hadn’t begged to have them for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. It was just the psychological latch she needed on the plate to adjust the way she was approaching the table. I piled a mountain of them next to her pork, which she ate absent-mindedly, and which, when deconstructed and cut into pieces, was not all that much different looking than the Pork braised in Pomegranate Juice and Marcella’s Milk-braised Pork she’s had (and loved) a hundred times before.
And I know this is not exactly breaking news, but Holy Christ Tater Tots taste good! The rest of us were pretty excited about dinner that night, too.
Red-Wine-Braised Pork Loin with Beans and Kale…and Tater Tots
In a Dutch Oven, brown a pork loin over medium-high heat in olive oil on all sides, about 10-12 minutes total. Remove from pot. Add 1 clove garlic (halved) and swirl around in the oil for about one minute; remove.
To the Dutch Oven, add one chopped onion, 1 stalk celery (chopped), 1 large carrot (chopped), salt, and pepper. Cook until soft, 3 minutes. Add about 3/4 cup red wine and 1 cup diced tomatoes (in their juices), a dash of hot sauce, and a bay leaf. Add loin back to the pot. (Liquid should come about a third of the way up the sides of the loin.) Boil, then reduce braising liquid to a simmer and cover. Cook 1 hour.
If you are using dried beans add 1 1/2 cup of them now, and cook another hour. (I used tiger beans, which had been presoaked for a few hours, but any white bean like cannellini or Great Northern would be good, too.) If you are using canned beans, wait another hour, then add a 15-ounce can for the last 15-20 minutes of cooking. (My guess is that you could add a cup and a half of uncooked French lentils at this point, instead of beans.)
During the last 15 minutes of cooking, make your Tater Tots!
During the last 10 minutes of cooking, drizzle in a tablespoon or two of white wine vinegar.
During the last 3 minutes, add a handful or two of chopped up kale.
Cook until kale has just wilted. Remove pork loin, slice in pieces and serve over bean stew. With Tater Tots.