Autumn in Brussels : Pork Loin with Peaches and Thyme

Autumn here in Belgium begins overnight. After the short interlude of an Indian summer, you wake up to an overcast, gray day and feel that the clouds are only a few inches above your head. The roses might still be in full bloom, the daytime temperature is still comfortable, but you already know that the rainy season is here. It’s telling that in the old Bruxellois dialect, there are numerous words for rain. It can be a delicate mist that looks innocuous but soaks you to the bone within minutes. It can be a lashing, cold rain that makes umbrellas obsolete, or it might just be a nagging drizzle that makes me feel sad for no particular reason and ponder the wisdom of bears that go into hibernation for the winter.

Since the winter here is nine months long, hibernation isn’t really an option. I’ve learned to do all of my chores on foot and shop at the open air markets which are run year round in each neighborhood, rain or shine. Brussels is made up of 19 communes, and if you love markets, you can explore different areas of the city based on your specific shopping needs. On Saturday, you can pour over the antique books at the market held at the Place du Sablon. On Sunday, you can buy spices and vegetables at the sprawling le Marché du Midi or walk along Rue de Brabant and feel as if you’re in Morocco. While les grandes surfaces (supermarkets) offer stiff competition, the vibrancy of the open air markets even on the dreariest of days is appealing.

My favorite market is held on Fridays in the Schaerbeek commune of Brussels. At one point, Schaerbeek used to be an elegant area, and while today it’s on the shabby side, the beautiful Art Nouveau buildings with their time worn patina give it a special air. The Place des Chasseurs Ardennais market sells all types of foods, and I love the fact that in contrast to most other food markets, it is open in the afternoon–perfect for us, working folks. It’s also a great place for people watching, and after a while you notice the same faces and begin to know their shopping preferences. My biggest social breakthrough in Belgium came when a lady named Mathilde who walks  her cat on a leash came up to me as I was buying fish and asked me how I was going to cook it.

This past week everyone was buying the late season peaches, and I couldn’t resist them either. A perfect peach needs no embellishment, but it can add an interesting note to other dishes. One of my favorite combinations is peaches with pork: peach slices wrapped with bacon and grilled, peaches layered with prosciutto, and even peaches with cured Italian ham or braised with a pork loin. The musky sweetness of peach against the tender braised meat perfumed with garlic and thyme is addictive. Now I’m going to turn a bit geeky–the reason this pairing is so successful has to do with lactones, the compounds present in both pork and peaches that have a milky, creamy flavor. Such natural complementarities ensure a smooth and harmonious flavor in the finished dish. Those same lactones are the reason why Guerlain Mitsouko feels like a velvet wrap on your skin and why Rochas Femme has a sultry, languid aura.

Sultry is a good way to describe the pork and peach dish that I make while peaches are in season. I add thyme for a bright, herbal accent and star anise to accentuate the sweetness of peaches. It is a dish that looks glamorous, but it doesn’t take much effort to prepare. Just coat the pork with the herbal rub–this can be done the night before, let it marinate and then brown it lightly. Combine the sauce ingredients and braise in the oven. While it cooks, you make the peach garnish, toss a salad and set the table. Make enough to last for a couple of days and enjoy the fragrant pork cold inside a baguette slathered with mustard. The flavors are vibrant enough to make this braised pork appropriate for the summer, and with a side dish of mashed potatoes or braised cabbage, it becomes hearty enough for colder days.

Wine and Thyme Braised Pork Loin with Peaches

This late summer-early fall dish can be made with other fruit. Plums, pears, apples and quince work especially well. If you’re using harder fruit like pears or quinces, be sure to increase the cooking time in the final stage. Apples and pears would need about 10-20 minutes of cooking, while if you’re using quince, I recommend adding it with the pork to braise in oven.

My mom sometimes makes this dish with turkey breast, treating it the same way. If you’re following her suit, leave the breast whole and simply reduce the braising time accordingly.

Serves 4

2-3 lbs boneless pork loin

Dry Rub:

2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme (or 1/4 teaspoon dry)

Braising Sauce:

2 Tablespoons olive oil
2 medium onions, thinly sliced
2 garlic cloves, smashed
1 bay leaf
1 star anise
2 branches of fresh thyme (or 1/2 teaspoon dry)
salt, black pepper, as needed
1.5 cups wine (white or rosé)
3 large peaches, peeled, thickly sliced and  drizzled with lemon juice to prevent browning
1 Tablespoon unsalted butter
1 Tablespoon of honey

Combine the ingredients for the dry rub in a bowl. Wash the pork loin, trim off the excess fat and rub it with a salt mixture. Cover and refrigerate for 2 to 24 hours.

Preheat oven to 350°F. Pat pork dry with a piece of paper towel. Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a heavy, oven-proof casserole over high heat. Add pork; lightly brown it on all sides, about 10 minutes. Transfer to plate.

Reduce heat to medium and add onions  (if the pan is dry, add one more spoonful of oil). Sauté until translucent and barely golden, about 10 minutes. Add garlic, bay leaf, star anise and thyme. Add pork with all of its juices, wine and bring to simmer. Transfer into the oven and  bake until tender, 45 minutes-1 hour. Check from time to time to baste pork with the braising sauce. If the sauce evaporates too quickly, add 1/4-1/2 cup of water. Once the juices run clear, the meat is ready.

When pork is almost ready, melt butter in a medium frying pan and add peach slices. Cook for 5 minutes, or till they start to color and turn them gently with a fork. Cook the other side 5 more minutes, drizzle peaches with honey and sprinkle with a pinch of salt. Remove from the heat.

Transfer pork to platter, cover with foil and let stand 15 minutes. If the sauce in the casserole looks thin, bring it to boil over medium heat and let it simmer till it starts to coat a wooden spoon. Season with salt and pepper and add braised fruit to the sauce.

Slice pork thickly and serve with sauce and peaches.

Store the leftovers covered with the sauce. The pork can be enjoyed cold or reheated for 10 minutes over low flame.

Photography by Bois de Jasmin

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50 Comments

  • Hana: This blog reflects my way of loving fragrances so well. I feel like I always knew that perfumes, food and tea were somehow connected. Sometimes I would like to live in a world with Bois de Jasmin glasses 🙂
    I must admit, that I don’t like shopping at markets much, I find it even more stressful than supermarkets. I’m a terrible decision maker and there is too much temptation. The combination of peaches and meat is great. I like adding peaches into a Maroccan lamb tajine. October 4, 2012 at 7:55am Reply

    • Anne: Ditto! That’s why I love BdJ so much. 🙂 October 4, 2012 at 8:37am Reply

      • marsha: Ditto #2! Victoria is going to have all of us moving to Belgium!

        Pork Loin! Thunk! That is the sound of my head hitting the floor! October 4, 2012 at 10:59am Reply

        • Victoria: Thank you, Anne and Marsha!

          This pork loin recipe is really rewarding–you get a nice side dish with the caramelized onions and peaches and a juicy cut of pork. Our contemporary pork is really lean, so it’s not a particularly rich dish. October 4, 2012 at 12:09pm Reply

    • Victoria: 🙂 They’re really so closely linked to me. When you taste and explore different things, you’re honing your nose as well in the process and vice versa.

      The thing that I find annoying at the markets is having to wait. This is very different from NYC where everyone is served very quickly, if there is a line. Here, the seller and the customer talk for 10 minutes about the weather, then proceed to discussing the produce and what to do with it, then select everything with much care, then have another 10 minute discussion. You can take all the time in the world when it’s your turn though. So, I try to go at times when I know that the market will be less crowded. October 4, 2012 at 12:07pm Reply

  • Barbara: That plate of food makes my mouth water! I make pork chops with apples and I will try your recipe next time I buy some pork. I shop at my local outdoor market every Saturday and it’s the best. My daughter started coming with me and she enjoys helping me to select fruit and vegetables. October 4, 2012 at 8:23am Reply

    • Victoria: How sweet! How old is your daughter, Barbara? October 4, 2012 at 12:09pm Reply

      • Barbara: She is 7, my youngest one. Out of my kids, she takes most interest in food and scents. October 4, 2012 at 1:34pm Reply

        • Victoria: She has such a great role model! 🙂 October 4, 2012 at 2:48pm Reply

  • marsi: YUM! I can just smell the peaches and pork through the screen. October 4, 2012 at 9:21am Reply

    • Victoria: Thank you, Marsi! 🙂 October 4, 2012 at 12:09pm Reply

  • Patt: My stomach is growling! A favorite recipe of mine using pork loin calls for the loin to be opened and stuffed with a mixture of prunes and walnuts macerated in sherry. The loin is then rolled back up, tied with string, and roasted. A great fall dish 🙂 October 4, 2012 at 9:22am Reply

    • Barbara: WoW! I need to find something to eat right now, just reading this description made my stomach growl. October 4, 2012 at 9:26am Reply

    • Victoria: That sounds wonderful! The pork and prune stew is something my grandmother makes every fall-winter, and that’s another combination I love. In Ukraine prunes are dried over smoldering wood, so they have a rich, smoky flavor. Mmmm….

      I will have to try your recipe too. October 4, 2012 at 12:11pm Reply

      • Daisy: Smoked prunes? Oh gosh. SWOON!!!! October 4, 2012 at 11:18pm Reply

        • Victoria: I usually try to bring a big bag home, which I use like precious truffles. The best use for them though is in a sour cream cake. They taste even more exotic in that context.

          But you can soak regular prunes in the strong lapsang souchong tea and get a similar effect. October 5, 2012 at 2:49am Reply

  • Katie C: I normally just admire your blog from afar and don’t comment, but I had to on this as it looks so delicious! I totally agree, the combo of pork and fruit is sultry. 🙂 Like you, I love markets, but my problem shopping there is that I usually buy way too much. October 4, 2012 at 9:44am Reply

    • Victoria: Thank you for stopping by, Katie! I can relate to this, because I usually buy way too much, forgetting that I only have our small household to feed, rather than an army! 🙂 October 4, 2012 at 12:12pm Reply

  • jillie: This looks so delicious – I will have to cook it this weekend. I can almost smell those peaches in your photo as they are glowing like little suns, and like everyone else, I am dribbling at the prospect of this combination!

    It’s melancholic here too. The geese have been flying over the garden, honking mournfully, and the leaves are scattering themselves over the grass. I don’t think it’s the prospect of the winter and the cold that makes me mournful (I love winter), it’s more the change of season signalling the passing of time. But the postmans has just brought my bottle of the new Liz Earle perfume, which promises to be a comfort scent, so I had better go and try it on! October 4, 2012 at 10:41am Reply

    • Victoria: Jillie, I hope that you’ll enjoy it! The combination is really harmonious. I imagine that it would be great with apricots too, but I missed the season. But I might try it again with plums. We still have the big red plums that taste so winey and rich when roasted.

      You’ve captured exactly the reason why this season makes me feel melancholy. It’s the passing of time and my poignant awareness of how fleeting everything is. I start missing people who are not around, dreaming at night of those who have passed away. And since last year I lost someone quite close to me (his birthday would have been around now), it all feels even more so melancholy. But life goes on, and I like to use these melancholy periods for reflection and for slowing down a little. There is a beautiful quote from the Russian author and thinker Alexander Hertzen that I love: “From this one thing alone is clear; that one should make use of life, of the present; not in vain does Nature in all her utterances for ever beckon life onwards and whisper in every ear her vivere memento.” October 4, 2012 at 12:25pm Reply

      • Patt: That is beautiful, Victoria. I think the autumn is a perfect time for self-evaluation and reflection. I find that I envy my Jewish friends their holidays of reflection and atonement at this time of year (especially since it also includes food, celebration, and family). October 4, 2012 at 4:57pm Reply

        • Victoria: I also find those holidays beautiful and meaningful. I have a book by Claudia Roden on Jewish cuisine, and some holiday recipes are just irresistible. But the symbolism behind dishes and tastes is even more fascinating. October 5, 2012 at 2:40am Reply

      • jillie: As Patt says, V, you have expressed that so beautifully. I believe you don’t feel such depths of sadness unless you have experienced the highs of happiness; and that loss is felt more keenly when you have loved greatly. October is a sad month for me too, but I would far rather have those memories and feelings than none, and I know that there is much to enjoy in the future – the glow of Christmas and then the brightness of spring. And our loved ones really do live on in our hearts and help make us what we are. October 5, 2012 at 2:17am Reply

        • Victoria: I don’t mind these feelings, which as my husband jokes, is “very Russian” of me. And as bittersweet as the passing of time tends to feel, I love the changes and the traditions around them.
          And thank you for saying this! October 5, 2012 at 3:38am Reply

  • Austenfan: 9 months seems a bit much for winter in these Northern parts. I find that from November till the end of February it tends to be kind of grey and dreary ( and dark as days are short!) In March all sorts of bulb flowers will start to appear and days will get noticeably longer.
    Mind you I am having a hard time adjusting to autumn myself this year having just returned from a 2 week holiday in the South of France.

    The dish as usual looks delish! October 4, 2012 at 10:57am Reply

    • Patt: Two weeks in the South of France…envious! October 4, 2012 at 11:09am Reply

      • Austenfan: It was pure bliss! October 4, 2012 at 2:14pm Reply

    • Victoria: I’m being a bit facetious! My Belgian friends joke that winter here is like a pregnancy, nine months. I find that in terms of temperature, it’s not bad at all. But in terms of rain and gloom, it can be hard to adjust to, if you’re not used to the consecutive months of it. Thankfully, our apartment has a lot of light, even on the darkest days. And anyway, there is nothing can be done about the weather, so I work on my attitude towards it instead. I’ll reserve some right to complain a little time to time though. It’s therapeutic. 🙂

      And so envious of your holiday in the South of France. It must have been wonderful! October 4, 2012 at 12:30pm Reply

      • Austenfan: I was afraid for a moment that you really thought you were in for 9 months of dreariness. I love the smells of autumn and the colours but I hate the fact that the darkness of winter is approaching.

        I once had pork loin with a creamy mustard sauce which was wonderful but I can see the peaches working really well. October 4, 2012 at 2:16pm Reply

        • Victoria: There is a wonderful walnut shell scent in the air these days. And then I’ve noticed the first fresh walnuts at the market, which taste like the essence of fall. And quinces and persimmons and pomegranates! I really love fall cooking (and a coat and boot addict, I love fall fashions). So, yes, there is much to enjoy about the season. The short days of late fall-winter is the worst part though, I completely agree. I have some pleasant memories of baking with my grandmother on such days and making scrapbooks together, so maybe I will use the evenings for some productive activities as well. I need to start unpacking some of my boxes too. October 4, 2012 at 2:56pm Reply

  • Eric: Beautiful photos, Victoria! Your blog is an eye candy as well as a treat for all other senses. I’m going to make this with apples. What do you think of cinnamon instead of star anise? My wife doesn’t like anything licorice tasting. October 4, 2012 at 12:19pm Reply

    • Victoria: Thank you, Eric! 🙂
      Of course, you can use cinnamon. It would be great with apples or other fruit. Allspice, nutmeg, cardamom would be great too. Or saffron + fennel + orange peel for a Mediterranean twist October 4, 2012 at 12:31pm Reply

      • Eric: Thank you! Great ideas. I want to try all of them. I particular like the sound of nutmeg with peaches. October 4, 2012 at 12:57pm Reply

        • Victoria: That’s a great combination. I’ve learned it from a friend who makes the most delicious peach pie scented with nutmeg. October 4, 2012 at 2:48pm Reply

      • Barbara: I’m so impressived with your knowledge of spices, V! I love to smell them at the store but I wouldn’t be able to put a dish together like this. Do you know of a book I could read to learn more about spices? October 4, 2012 at 1:36pm Reply

        • Victoria: I don’t think that I know all that much about spices, I always want to learn more, but I love to play around and try different combinations. I highly recommend The Complete Book of Spices: A Practical Guide to Spices and Aromatic Seeds by Jill Norman. She describes all sorts of spices and gives suggestions on how to use them. You can get a copy for pennies from the used book sellers on Amazon.com. October 4, 2012 at 2:51pm Reply

  • Alyssa: “A lady named Mathilde who walks her cat on a leash…” 🙂

    I’m glad for the markets and the occasional breakthrough, V. And selfishly glad that you’ll probably have more writing time if it rains a lot. October 4, 2012 at 3:06pm Reply

    • Victoria: There are some characters around here! I have to say that the cat was quite reluctant to be on a leash.

      After getting totally drenched yesterday on my evening walk and waking up today with a sore throat, I’m definitely planning more indoors activities. 🙂 October 4, 2012 at 4:30pm Reply

  • annemariec: I tend to emerge from our local market covered in lovely indulgences – a bottle of local wine, flowers, honeycomb – but so far have resisted the olives, the spice blends and the chocolates. I do buy sensible things like meat and vegetables for dinner. But last time I was there I was too late for my favourite potato seller. She had run out of pink eyes – waxy potatoes with pink smudges on the skin, best eaten very young, boiled and served with butter. Yum!

    They grow everywhere in Tasmania, where I grew up, but the reason they are hard to get in New South Wales is that the climate is drier and farmers don’t water them enough. So I learned from a lengthy discussion at my market!

    I shall wait until peaches are in season here, and try the pork recipe. Sounds lovely. October 4, 2012 at 5:48pm Reply

    • Victoria: Anne-Marie, ah, I can relate to your potato quest, because I have been trying to find the special Belgian potato variety called bintje. It is the potato for frites. The trouble is that these heirloom varieties aren’t as easy to grow, so it has been displaced by other types. After searching for it for a while, I finally managed to find it this week. And it tastes wonderful–creamy, buttery. October 5, 2012 at 2:45am Reply

      • annemariec: Oh well done you! I hope that cooking and eating them will lift your spirits. I’ve certainly heard of bintjes and I’m not generally very observant of this kind of thing, which makes me think that they must be fairly widely available here, although not at this time of the year probably. I’m feeling inspired to go back to the market tomorrow morning to see what other discoveries I might make. October 5, 2012 at 3:55am Reply

        • Victoria: Here is a great article about bintjes, the role of fries in the Belgian culture and national identity:
          http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424053111903927204576573201537015890.html

          This is definitely the potato country. The variety of potatoes sold at the average supermarket is really interesting. If you manage to find bintjes, do try them fried or sauteed. They crisp up nicely, while remaining luscious and creamy inside. October 5, 2012 at 5:53am Reply

  • Daisy: This looks amazing! I love thyme — it is by far my favorite herb. Very foreign to my mother though…

    But the combination of garlic, thyme, pork, and peaches makes my mouth water! Yummy!

    If I see peaches at the market this weekend (I think we are far past them, but it has been super hot and muggy these past few days and the seasons have been very confused this year), I am going to try this!

    I’ve made something similar with apples, but not with peaches, so I am very excited! Thanks for the recipe, Victoria! October 4, 2012 at 11:21pm Reply

    • Victoria: I fell in love with the taste of thyme through French cooking, and I find it so unique–smoky, herbal, floral, spicy. Some varieties are distinctly lemony. Try thyme in a raspberry compote! That’s such a great combo.

      But if you don’t want to use thyme, basil or tarragon would be great too. October 5, 2012 at 3:07am Reply

  • Shirin Alzebari: Since I live in a country with prohibited Pork meat and no alcohol, I substitute the pork with deer meat (thoughI was told that the giraffe’s meat tastes the same, or more succulent than the pork meat, but could not find it!) and the wine with nonalcoholic wine , it was tasty all the same, Thank you for the recipe. October 5, 2012 at 2:57am Reply

    • Victoria: Shirin, you can definitely use other meats. Even chicken or turkey breast, just reduce the cooking time. And you can use tart apple juice instead of wine or just vegetable stock. No recipe is set in stone, and sometimes the best ideas come up when we experiment. Hope that you will enjoy it! October 5, 2012 at 3:42am Reply

  • Judith Marianne Taufan: Victoria, I read in one of your comments that you love bintjes. There is a restaurant in Grand Sablon called Bleu de Toi that specialises in lobsters & gibiers. Come autumn their menu will be all gibiers. They specialise in bintjes too. Their menu hold an extensive selection of bintjes dishes, most of them treated in ‘baked potatoes with toppings’ sort. I hope that this restaurant is still around, if it is it really worth the time and the euros 🙂 October 6, 2012 at 11:55am Reply

    • Victoria: I just checked, and it’s still there! Thank you, Judith. I will definitely be making a visit there. Thanks to you, I’m discovering more and more things to enjoy about Brussels. 🙂 October 6, 2012 at 11:58am Reply

      • Judith Marianne Taufan: You’re very welcome Victoria 🙂 October 8, 2012 at 1:42am Reply

  • Roza: Вика, давно к тебе не заходила. Какая красота!
    А у нас сейчас сезон гранат, везде, во все салаты добавляем зернышки, как у вас бруснику и клюкву October 29, 2012 at 9:15am Reply

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