A salesman for a coffee company, Paul Mendola lives in Holbrook with his wife and two teenage stepchildren.
Where did you learn to cook? I'm Italian and come from a long line of really good cooks. My father, my grandfather. My mother is in her 80s and still pulling new tricks out of her hat for holiday dinners. When I was 16, my father asked me what I was doing for the summer, and I made the mistake of saying, "Nothing." So he got me a job at a catering hall in Bethpage. I was busing tables but fascinated by the chefs. I started asking questions. Eventually I worked as a banquet director and a maitre d' at catering halls.
Does your family appreciate your culinary skills? I have six children, nine grandchildren and another one on the way. If I just mention I'm cooking, I could have 10 or 15 people at the house. We had 28 people over for Christmas. People brought different things, but my wife and I took care of the main dishes.
How did you come up with this recipe? One day when I was at the catering hall, a long time ago, I was talking to a chef who was stuffing pork with apples. He had a bag of figs that he was going to use to garnish the platter. I said, "Did you ever think of throwing them inside?" And then the next time I was cooking, I tried it myself. They add a different flavor to the inside of the pork. I like experimenting.
What do you like about cooking with fruit? I like to mix sweet and savory. In the summer I'll cook a plum in a pan with a little butter and put that over a steak. It's amazing, like a plum syrup.
Mission Fig-Stuffed Pork with Baked Apples
After you get the pork in the oven, prepare the apples and put them in the same oven a little bit later. That way both components of the dish will be done at the same time. Salt to taste when you drizzle on the olive oil.
One 3- to 4-pound boneless pork loin
2 tablespoons olive oil
One 7-ounce package Black Mission Figs, stemmed
1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh parsley
2 tablespoons honey
6 Gala, Jonagold, or any good baking apples
1/2 cup apple cider or apple juice
1/4 cup maple syrup
1. Make pork: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cut pork loin lengthwise almost in half. Do not cut all the way through. Open to butterfly.
2. Drizzle both sides with olive oil. Cover one side of pork with figs. Drizzle with honey and sprinkle with parsley. Tie pork loin closed with butchers twine.
3. Place in baking dish and drizzle the top with more honey and parsley. Cover with foil and bake until an instant-read thermometer inserted into center reads 170 degrees, 1 to 1½ hours, basting occasionally and uncovering for last 10 minutes of cooking. Transfer to a cutting board, tent loosely with foil and let stand for 10 minutes.
4. Make apples: Trim bottoms of apples so they sit flat in an 8-inch-square baking dish. Core and peel, leaving half of skin on. Place in baking dish with apple cider. Fill apples loosely with brown sugar and sprinkle tops with cinnamon. Drizzle with maple syrup. Cover with foil and bake until fork-tender, about 45 minutes.
4. Strain pork drippings into a small sauce pan. Heat and pour over top of sliced pork loin. Serve with apples on the side. Makes 6 to 8 servings.