What's Cool In Road Cycling

Eat To Compete: Pork Medallions with a Balsamic Fig Reduction

This month’s meal pays tribute to some of the unsung heroes of the summer. Those that are present throughout the season, but are often overshadowed by the big boys. No, I don’t mean Cadel, but hats off to him, I’m talking about foods like figs or pork loin, which are often brushed aside for summer classics like tomatoes and burgers.

– By Casey Weaver –
Figs are front and center in this month’s meal. Endurance athletes have long been aware of the energy figs pack, and in the Stone Age of sports nutrition, would eat them dried by the handful (a problem many early Ironmen would have to contend with – often times in no more time than a couple hours down the road…). Many cyclists still happily eat figs in Newton-form as a convenient source of solid calories on the bike.

But let’s not overlook fresh figs, which are a very seasonal fruit. They are incredibly tasty and have just as much nutrition. Not only are they packed with fiber, but they are one of the best plant sources for minerals like potassium and calcium. They also happen to lend themselves well to salads and balsamic reductions (its really not all that scary) over pork.

1 pork loin, fat trimmed, cut into 1 Ѕ inch thick rounds

4-5 fresh figs, cut into ј inch cubes
Ѕ medium red onion, cut into ј inch dice
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
3 slices prosciutto, fat trimmed
ј cup balsamic vinegar
1 T olive oil
1 T maple syrup
red pepper flakes (optional)
salt and pepper

Originally, this recipe was prepared as a stuffed pork loin, though for simplicity sake, and because I’ve found that cyclists tend to favor things that move in circles and not spirals, I decided to cut the pork loin into rounds topped with the fig mix instead of spiraling and stuffing it.

For the fig topping, heat the olive oil in a heavy skillet over medium-high heat. Add the figs, garlic, and onions, season with salt, and cook about three minutes, stirring often, until the onions begin to turn translucent. Add the vinegar and maple syrup, stir to combine, then bring to a low simmer, and cook until most of the liquid is absorbed, about four minutes, stirring often. Season the mixture with salt and pepper to taste, add red pepper if desired, then remove from heat.

Heat a separate pan over high heat. Add the prosciutto slices and cook about 1 minute per side, until crisped. Remove from heat and coarsely chop with a knife.

Pork loin is a great alternative to cooking chicken. It is quite literally the filet mignon of pork, all you have to do is slice it. It’s also very lean, lends itself well to many different flavors, and is pretty cheap, too.

You can cook the pork any way you would like. If you are keen on grilling, then go on ahead. Or, just cook them in a skillet with olive oil over medium-high heat for about four to five minutes per side. Be sure to season them with salt and pepper.

Warm the fig mixture and spoon it over the cooked pork medallions, then sprinkle with the crisped prosciutto.

A friend I recently had over for dinner was giving me a hard time about how every restaurant in LA insists upon having a clichй “Farmer’s Market Salad” which apparently must contain a minimum of at least arugula, fennel, some sort of berry, nuts, and a soft cheese. In her honor I did what I could to adapt this farmer’s market formula, and even one-up it by throwing in the antioxidative benefits of pomegranite, which is also in the midst of its season, and of course, fresh figs.

Farmer’s Market Salad with Blueberry Balsamic Dressing

6 cups arugula, rinsed
Ѕ head radicchio, chopped
seeds from Ѕ pomegranite
4-6 figs, chopped
Ѕ cup walnuts, coarsely chopped
Ѕ cup goat cheese, crumbled

Blueberry-balsamic Dressing

Ѕ cup fresh blueberries, rinsed
1/8 cup extra virgin olive oil
ј cup balsamic vinegar
1 clove garlic
salt and pepper

I find that when dealing with greens that have (hopefully) come fresh from the field like arugula, the best way to wash them is not by rinsing under running water, but by submerging them a few times. This really loosens all the dirt deep down in the crevices. Also, before making your dressing, make sure to rinse your blueberries well. Berries, when conventionally grown, tend to be heavily treated with pesticides.

For the dressing, combine all the ingredients in a food processor and hit blend. For the salad, combine all ingredients in a large salad bowl. Lightly top with desired amount of dressing (there should be plenty left over for enjoyment with another salad) and you are good to go.

Just as the great weather that comes with the change of season helps us eek out that last bit of motivation before backing off for, oh about a week or two, these first few weeks of the cooling months are your last chance to take advantage the summer produce you’ve been looking at for quite some time but have done little with. Like your fitness, it’ll soon be gone, so do what you can with it now!

About The Author:
Casey grew up in the kitchen inspired by his mom and grandmother, who ran the catering and cooking instruction company, Cooking in the Canyon, in Brentwood, Ca. He received his undergraduate degree in Communication Studies from UCLA, currently races for the NOW-MS elite amateur cycling team, and coaches endurance athletes with Velo-Fit, llc.

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