When I saw this chicken recipe on Diane Darrow’s Another Year in Recipes blog last week, I knew I had to make it. Diane is among the most intelligent and eloquent food writers I know. Along with her wine-maven husband Tom Maresca, she’s authored two cookbooks on Italian cooking and can always be relied on for expert advice on the subject of authentic Italian cuisine.
Diane found the recipe in Wilma Pezzini’s The Tuscan Cookbook, published in 1978 and has been writing a series of three posts from it that cover three standard courses of an Italian meal (primo, secondo, dolce). Her description of the book, along with the posted recipes, motivated me to purchase a used copy of it, which I’ve found to be an unsung gem, both instructive and engaging to read.
Often my choice of what we’ll have for dinner is determined by what’s in the market. Such was the case yesterday, when I went to our butcher and found some pretty good looking heritage pork chops sourced from local farms.
I wanted a recipe for them that would do justice to their juicy fat and rich flavor. It didn’t take long before I settled on one from Carol Field’s In Nonna’s Kitchen. What attracted me to the recipe was its Tuscan austerity, using essentially only one ingredient other than the meat, onions. The onions are sliced very thin and are stewed for about an hour until they become a creamy sauce for the chops.
This sauce, however, reminded me of Marcella Hazan’s Smothered Onions for pasta, which is quite similar to Field’s except that at the end of the stewing, the onions are browned on high to sharpen their flavor. I thought this would work well with the chops.
One other influence on last night’s dish was James Peterson’s new book, Done.: A Cook’s Guide to Knowing When Food Is Perfectly Cooked. It had just arrived in the mail and I thought why not see what he says about pork chops. The section on sautéed pork chops illustrates with detailed photos exactly when to turn the chops (“When juices start to form on the top and sides. . .”) and suggests an internal temperature of 130° F as opposed to the typically recommended 145° F for the perfect medium. I incorporated Peterson’s instructions for cooking the chops into the original recipe from Field.
I am happy to report the results were. . .extraordinary. The pork chops came out perfectly cooked and juicy; the sauce was sweet and piquant. It may have taken three cookbooks to turn out this dish, but the prep and cooking were minimal.
Braciole di Maiale Contadine Pork Chops Smothered in Creamy Onions Adapted from In Nonna’s Kitchen
3 onions, sliced very fine (I used two rather large Vidalia onions sliced 1/8” thick with a mandolin.)
4-5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil (I used 4 tablespoons of oil and 2 tablespoons of butter.)
1-2 tablespoons of water (I skipped the water as my onions were quite moist.)
Freshly ground black pepper
6 pork chops (about 2 3/4 pounds) (I used 2 bone-in chops, about 1.5 pounds total.)
All-purpose flour with salt and pepper for dredging
1/2 cup dry red wine
1 – 2 tablespoons of unsalted butter (As I used butter when cooking the onions and did not puree the onions, I did not use it here.)
Put the onions in a large heavy sauté pan with 2 tablespoons of the olive oil, a tablespoon or two of water, salt, and pepper. (I used the oil but added 1 tablespoon of unsalted butter and omitted the water.)
Cover the pan and cook the onions at the lowest simmer over the lowest possible heat for 45 minutes to one hour, stirring occasionally. At the end the onions will be smooth creamy. (I cooked the onions for a full hour and at the end uncovered them, raised the heat to medium high and cooked them until they were deep gold in color. I then added a little dry vermouth and cooked until the wine evaporated and followed this with a tablespoon of chopped parsley.)
Set the sauce aside.
Dredge the pork chops in the the seasoned flour so they won’t stick while cooking. Drizzle the remaining oil into a heavy sauté pan large enough to hold the chops comfortably without crowding, add the pork chops, and brown them, turning so they cook evenly. (I used 2 tablespoons of oil and 1 tablespoon of butter. Following Peterson’s book, I heated the fats and cooked the chops on a medium heat about 5 minutes a side; they were about 3/4 of an inch thick. I turned them only once, when juices and blood started to appear on top of the bones and the meat—about 5 minutes and cooked the second side for about another 3 minutes.)
When they have browned, 2 to 3 minutes a side (again, note my comments about browning above) pour in the red wine and boil until it evaporates. (Before adding the wine, I drained off most of the accumulated cooking fat.)
Put the cooked onions on top of the pork chops, cover and cook together briefly on top of the stove so the flavors meld, turning the chops several times. (I cooked the chops for about 2 minutes covered and turned them only once.)
The onions cook into a really thick sauce; at the end puree them in a processor or blender, adding a little water or a tablespoon or two of butter. (I skipped this step altogether because I wanted the sauce to have a little more texture and had already used enough butter in the sauce and in the browning of the chops.)
I know that with my commentary, this recipe may appear complicated; but trust me when I say it really isn’t difficult.
I served the chops accompanied by oven-roasted broccoli.
Wine Pairing: Morellino di Scansano, Chianti Classico