Ever since losing my cookbook library to a flood from super-storm Sandy, I’ve been rebuilding it slowly. Since many of the books in my original collection are now out of print, I’ve been relying on used-book sellers both local and online. One book I was especially happy to secure, at an affordable price, is Jeanne Carola Francesconi’s La Cucina Napoletana. Close to 700 pages in length, it’s a treasure trove of classic Neapolitan recipes, often succinctly written, with many ingredient measurements marked “q.b.” which means “quanto basta,” Italian for “just enough.” Given her laconic style, I’m pretty certain that Francesconi had relatively experienced cooks in mind as her audience. But even a novice one can acquire an understanding of authentic Neapolitan cuisine, which today seems sadly to have been overshadowed by its Northern counterparts or bastardized by many popular chain restaurants.
Francesconi’s simple recipe for breaded pork chops reminded me of my Neapolitan aunt’s approach to similar dishes, which I followed while adapting the recipe for last night’s supper. I also took liberties with the recipe’s measurements, using far more breadcrumbs, garlic, and capers than was called for even though I was preparing only two chops as opposed to the recipe’s six. Moreover, I chose to add some lemon zest to the crumbing to brighten the flavor.
As for the preparation, my approach was closer to my aunt’s. Where Francesconi says simply to “sprinkle the chops [placed in a single layer in a baking tin] with breadcrumbs, grated garlic, capers, parsley, pepper and salt and pour oil over them,” I chose to combine most of the topping ingredients to achieve more evenly distributed flavors. I also added a few steps as you will see below. For example, since modern pork is so lean, I oiled the chops before seasoning them as well as adding a bit of wine to the roasting pan.
Despite these departures from the original recipe, I do feel that the final dish resembled it closely both in flavor and texture, or at least as close as one could with modern pork. In fact, even though I extended the cooking time because of the size of the chops I used, the meat was deliciously moist. Served atop a bed of lightly dressed arugula and accompanied by a wedge of lemon, the chops made a perfect meal for a late-summer evening.
Neapolitan Breaded Pork Chops (adapted from La Cucina Napoletana by Jeanne Carola Francesconi)
2 bone-in pork chops, about 1½-inches thick (about 1 pound each)
4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
Freshly ground black pepper
1/3 cup flat-leaf parsley, roughly chopped
2 cloves garlic, grated
1 lemon, zested and then quartered
½ cup fine breadcrumbs, more if needed
2 tablespoons of capers, rinsed and drained
2 tablespoons dry white wine
1. Preheat the oven to 400°F.
2. Coat a small roasting pan with 1 tablespoon of olive oil.
3. Dry the chops with paper towels, oil them on both sides with 1 tablespoon of olive oil, and season both sides liberally with salt and pepper.
4. Mix the parsley, garlic, and lemon zest together and spread half the mixture over both sides of the chops.
5. Mix the remaining parsley, garlic, and lemon-zest mixture with the breadcrumbs together with 1 tablespoon of olive oil. The mixture should be moist enough to clump together when pressed between the fingers. If too dry, add a little more olive oil; if too moist, add a little more breadcrumb;
6. Add the chops to the roasting pan and sprinkle the capers on top, followed by the breadcrumb mixture.
7. Pour the wine along the sides of the roasting pan.
8. Place in the oven and cook until done, approximately 30 minutes, or until they reach an internal temperature between 150°F and 155°F on an instant read thermometer. (Although my chops exceeded this temperature, they were still juicy.) Let rest for a few minutes before serving.
Note: After the first 20 minutes, check the chops. If the bread crumbs are nicely browned, as shown below, cover loosely with a sheet of aluminum foil to prevent them from burning.
9. Place on warmed plates on a bed of arugula that’s been lightly dressed with salt and olive oil and accompanied by a lemon wedge.
Wine Pairing: Aglianico, Sangiovese