Note: Make the barbecue sauce at least 1 day in advance to allow the flavors to develop. This makes about 6 cups sauce, more than is required for this recipe. The sauce will keep for up to 1 week, refrigerated.
Roasted cherry barbecue sauce
4 pounds fresh cherries, preferably Bing, stemmed but unpitted
1/4 cup almond oil, divided
1 onion, thinly sliced, top to bottom
3 cloves garlic, crushed grated zest and juice of 1 orange, divided
1 teaspoon fennel seed, toasted and ground, more to taste
1 1/2 teaspoons ground chipotle pepper, more to taste
1 teaspoon ground cumin, more to taste
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 cup dry red wine
1/2 cup cherry liqueur, preferably Heering's
1 cup chicken broth
1 tablespoon whole-grain Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons maple syrup, preferably Grade B, more to taste
2 dashes Tabasco (or other vinegar-based hot sauce), more to taste
1 tablespoon salt, more to taste
1 teaspoon liquid smoke, optional
1. Heat the oven to 400 degrees. Place the cherries in a large bowl with 2 tablespoons of the almond oil and toss to coat lightly. Spread on a foil-lined baking sheet and roast until the cherries begin to burst and are very fragrant, about 25 minutes. Remove and set aside until cool enough to pit.
2. While the cherries are roasting, heat a heavy-bottom 4-quart pot over medium-high heat. Add the remaining 2 tablespoons almond oil, then stir in the onion, garlic and orange zest. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion becomes translucent, 8 to 10 minutes.
3. Stir in the ground fennel, chipotle pepper and cumin to coat, then stir in the tomato paste. Cook, stirring frequently, until the tomato paste darkens slightly and leaves a film on the bottom of the pan, 3 to 5 minutes. Watch carefully that the tomato paste doesn't burn.
4. Stir in the red wine and cherry liqueur and cook, stirring frequently, until the liquid reduces and thickens slightly, about 5 minutes. Stir in the orange juice, chicken broth, mustard, maple syrup, Tabasco and salt and bring to a simmer. Stir in the liquid smoke, if using. As the sauce comes to a simmer, pit the cherries, discarding the pits. (Pit the cherries over the roasting pan, saving any juices.)
5. Stir three-fourths of the pitted cherries and all of the cherry juice into the sauce, reserving the rest of the cherries. Cook the sauce at a gentle simmer, stirring occasionally, for 30 minutes. Purée the sauce until fairly smooth, using an immersion blender or blending in stages in a stand blender. Return the sauce to the pan and stir in the remaining cherries. Continue to gently simmer for 15 more minutes. Taste and adjust the flavorings and seasonings as desired. Remove from heat. Cool, then cover and refrigerate. Warm the sauce before using.
Pork chops and assembly
6 ounces thick applewood-smoked bacon (about 5 slices), cut into 1/4 -inch pieces
3/4 pound fresh goat cheese
1 large head fennel
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
1/4 cup roasted and salted almonds, coarsely chopped
freshly ground black pepper
8 center-cut pork chops, 1- to 1 1/4 -inch thick, preferably bone-in
Roasted cherry barbecue sauce
1. Place the bacon in a large skillet over medium heat. Cook the bacon, stirring occasionally, until the fat is rendered and the bacon starts to crisp, about 8 minutes. Remove to a paper-towel-lined plate and cool. Pour out the fat, leaving 1 tablespoon in the pan.
2. Reheat the bacon fat in the pan over medium heat. Stir in the fennel and sauté until tender and lightly caramelized, 5 to 7 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside.
3. Place the goat cheese in a medium bowl. Stir in the bacon, fennel, thyme leaves and almonds. Season with a few grinds of black pepper. Set aside.
4. Stuff the pork chops: Using a boning knife, slice a pocket (no more than 2 inches wide) lengthwise into the side of each pork chop. You will cut a pocket through most of the chop, but leave a half-inch border all around to prevent the pocket from ripping when stuffed. Repeat with the remaining chops. Divide the stuffing into 8 portions. Stuff each of the 8 chops, using a little of the stuffing at a time and distributing it evenly into the pocket with your fingers. Close the pockets with a toothpick or two. Wipe any excess stuffing from the outside of the chops.
5. Heat a grill over medium heat. Oil the grill rack and place the chops on the grill a few inches apart. You may have to do this in batches. Cover the grill and cook the chops, 6 to 7 minutes on each side, until a thermometer inserted reads 140 degrees for medium (or about 8 minutes per side for well-done). When the chops are almost done and need only a couple of more minutes on the grill, baste them with a light coat of the barbecue sauce and continue to grill.
6. Remove the grilled chops to a platter and remove the toothpicks. Serve immediately with extra barbecue sauce on the side.
Each serving: 582 calories; 56 grams protein; 17 grams carbohydrates; 3 grams fiber; 31 grams fat; 13 grams saturated fat; 136 mg. cholesterol; 664 mg. sodium.