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.
More often than not, when we have pork chops at home, I prepare them, as my mother did: pan seared and simmered with sweet vinegar peppers and their juice. As they are a classic Italian-American dish, recipes for them abound both in books and on the internet. In fact, I’ve even written about them on this blog.
This weekend, however, I found a new way to prepare them in Lydia Bastianich’s Lidia Cooks from the Heart of Italy. Although more labor intensive than my mother’s version, this recipe yields wonderfully succulent chops, coated with a silky savory sauce that acquires a bright piquancy from brined peperoncini and capers.
Although I was preparing only two pork chops, I maintained the recipe’s proportions for all the other ingredients. Since the sauce takes considerable time to thicken, I also opted for chops that were thicker than the one inch called for in the recipe. Mine were about 1 ½-inch thick and weighed at least 12 ounces each.
Should you choose to make this dish, I highly recommend using heritage pork which makes for juicier chops.
Italicized parenthetical comments in the recipe are my own.
Pork Chops with Capers from Lidia Cooks from the Heart of Italy
6 bone-in pork loin chops, 1-inch thick, 6 to 8 ounces each (I opted for thicker pork chops, about 1 ½-inch thick.)
1 teaspoon kosher salt
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
4 plump garlic cloves, crushed and peeled
½ cup all-purpose flour, for dredging, plus more as needed
1 large lemon, sliced in thin rounds
6 whole Tuscan-style pickled peperoncini, drained
3 tablespoons small capers, drained
¾ cup white wine (I used a Sardinian Vermentino that I had on hand.)
1 tablespoon lemon juice, freshly squeezed
2 tablespoons fresh Italian parsley, chopped
You will need a heavy-bottomed skillet or sauté pan, 14-inch diameter.
Trim the fat from the pork chops, if necessary, leaving only a thin layer, and salt them lightly on both sides, using 1/2 teaspoon salt in all.
Put the butter and olive oil in the skillet, and set it over medium-low heat. When the butter begins to bubble, scatter in the garlic; let it heat and gently sizzle. (You want to keep an eye on that garlic to ensure that it doesn’t burn.)
Meanwhile, spread the flour on a plate or tray, and dredge the chops on all sides. Shake off excess flour, and lay the chops in the skillet in one layer. (It may appear at first that there’s not enough room for all, but as the meat shrinks you will be able to nestle the chops in.)
Strew the lemon slices on top of the chops, and drop the peperoncini in between them. Cook the chops slowly, keeping them at a gentle sizzle, turning and moving them in the pan about every 5 minutes, as they take on color gradually and evenly. (To achieve maximum browning of the chops, let the lemon slices remain in the sauce after turning the chops the first time.)
After 20 minutes or so, when the pork is lightly browned and caramelized on both sides, scatter in the capers, shake the pan to drop them onto the bottom and turn up the heat to medium-high. When the capers are sizzling, push the chops aside, and pour the wine and lemon juice into the clear hot spot.
Bring to a boil, and shake the pan so the wine flows around all the chops. Sprinkle over pan the remaining salt, and adjust the heat to keep the pan juices bubbling, steadily reducing and thickening. Turn the chops occasionally, so both sides are moistened and evenly cooked.
After about 10 minutes of reducing the liquid, when the juices are syrupy and glaze the chops, remove the pan from the heat.
Sprinkle the chopped parsley all over, and give the chops a final turn in the pan. Serve right away, drizzling a bit of the remaining pan sauce over each chop. (Keep testing the chops for doneness during this stage. If they’re done, remove them to a plate, retuning them to the pan after the sauce has reached the desired texture.)
Wine Pairing: Vernaccia di San Gimignano
While pork chops may not live up to everyone’s idea of a Valentine’s Day dinner, for us they made the perfect late-night supper, especially when prepared as they were last night. We had seen them prepared a few weeks ago on the Cooking Chanel’s “French Food at Home” by Canadian chef Laura Calder and were eager to prepare them at home.
When we found the recipe on line, however, we were surprised by how many discrepancies there were between the television and website versions. For example, the online recipe calls for 4 fatty pork chops rather tan the 4 fat, thick chops used on the show. Similarly, the online version listed 1.5 pounds potatoes thinly sliced, while on television Calder specifically specified waxy potatoes sliced thick.
Consequently, I modified the recipe to follow the dish prepared on the show and was extremely pleased with the result. Although I had some reservations about cooking the chops for close to two hours, they came out perfectly succulent and tasty.
The next time I prepare this dish, I’ll probably use chops a little thicker than an inch and extend the cooking time a tad. But even if you only have inch-thick chops, you’ll enjoy this French country dish.
Pork Chops with Potatoes adapted from Cooking Channel Chef Laura Calder
4 thick bone-in rib pork chops (a least 1-inch thick)
2 cloves garlic, sliced (try to have 3 slices per chop)
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon butter
1 1/2 pounds waxy potatoes, peeled and sliced thick, about 1/2 inch
1 large sweet onion, sliced 1/4 inch
2 to 3 thick slices bacon, cut into 1/4 inch lardons
1/2 teaspoon juniper berries
1/2 cup dry white wine
1/2 cup chicken stock
Chopped fresh parsley, for garnish
Pre-heat the oven to 325 degrees.
Cut 2 to 3 slivers along the fatty edge of each pork chop and slide in the slices of garlic.
Heat the oil and the butter in skillet large enough to accommodate the 4 chops on high heat. Season the chops with salt and pepper and brown them well, about 3 minutes per side.
Transfer the chops to a plate and deglaze the pan with a splash of white wine. Transfer the pan juices to a large enamel-cast iron Dutch oven.
Arrange half the potatoes and onions over the pan juices in the Dutch oven. Season with salt and pepper lay two chops on top of the potatoes and onions.
Then stack the remaining two chops on top of the chops in the pot. Scatter the bacon and juniper berries over the stacked chops.
Cover with the remaining potatoes and onions. Season this layer with additional salt and pepper. Pour over the wine.
Cut a piece of parchment to fit over the potatoes and pork chops and lay it in on top.
Bake the dish for about 1 hour and 45 minutes (longer if using thicker chops), pouring in the chicken stock halfway through baking. Sprinkle with parsley to serve.
Wine Pairing: Brunello di Montalcino
Recently it seems that dishes from my childhood are finding their way to our dinner table. Whether it’s nostalgia or appetite that’s to blame, I’m not sure. But, as with last night’s pork chops with vinegar peppers, one of my mother’s favorites, reliving my past through food is always a pleasure.
For quite some time now, I’ve been trying to recreate this dish with varying degrees of success. Most of my attempts have yielded good results, but last night’s was the closest I’ve come to duplicating my mother’s. Most of the recipes I’ve read, and there are many for this Italian-American favorite, call for hot cherry peppers or pickled pepperoncini. However, my mother never used them and opted for pickled bell peppers, whose sweetness she tempered with cider vinegar.
Despite being cooked for a longer time than is fashionable these days, my mother’s chops were always moist and succulent. But back then, hogs were bred more for flavor than leanness. In order to recapture this quality, I use heritage pork when available that’s sourced locally.
The only hurdle left in trying to duplicate this dish perfectly is finding the brand of peppers she used, namely B and G Sweet Vinegar Peppers. Although last night’s Roland brand’s were good, they somehow were not just the same.
Pork Chops with Sweet Vinegar Peppers
2 1-inch thick, bone-in pork chops
Fresh ground pepper
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 garlic clove, peeled and lightly smashed
1/4 cup dry white wine
1/4 cup cider vinegar
2 whole red long peppers, sliced 1-inch thick
Dry the chops well with paper towels and season one side with salt, pepper, and a small pinch of sugar
Heat the oil and garlic clove in a sauté pan large enough to hold the chops comfortably.
When the oil is hot, add the chops seasoned side down and brown for about 5 minutes. Season the top side with salt and pepper, and then turn and brown on the second side for about another 5 minutes. Be sure to remove the garlic when it starts to brown.
When the chops are browned, place them on a plate and discard most of the fat from the pan, retaining a tablespoon.
Add the wine and the vinegar, scraping up any of the browned bit on the bottom of the pan. Return the chops, along with any juices from the plate, to the pan turning once to coat with sauce. Add the sliced peppers, cover, and cook over low heat for about 5 to 8 minutes or until the chops are cooked.
I served the chops last night with some of the sweetest summer corn I’ve had this season. Thought not a traditional accompaniment, it provided a perfect counterpoint to the savory chops.
Wine Pairing: Syrah, Chardonnay
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