The last two weeks are a blur of restaurant meals, both highbrow and low. So lunch on Sunday at my father's in Boston - consisting of nothing more than fresh bread and tomatoes sliced up and dressed with olive oil and vinegar - came as a total relief. Later that night, I cooked our first pasta dinner in a long while, and Ben and I agreed that we were both very ready for simple, homemade food again. Luckily for us, the markets are full to bursting with all the good things we love to eat, cooked quickly, if at all, and sauced with nothing more than a squeeze of lemon juice or olive oil or, in my case, a sprinkling of salt.
Thinking I might need to bolster our dinner with something more substantial than just vegetal cellulose last night, I set out to make pork chops. Isn't there something mouth-watering just about those two words in juxtaposition? Pork. Chops. Ben grumbled a bit about the choice of meat (if it were up to him, we'd be subsisting on a diet of chicken breast and cod, I think), but ended up not only polishing off his chop, but half of mine as well. In March, Donna Deane had written a piece in the LA Times about the ease and convenience of pork chops for weeknight dinners, including four variations on a theme with sauces that ranged from sage cream to a wine reduction.
Because I happen to think that tomatoes are God's gift to human beings and I often think that my answer to the inane "If there were only one thing you could eat for the rest of your life" question might very well be the humble tomato, I chose to make the chops with tomato sauce. I bought bone-in, inch-thick chops and seared them to a gorgeous brown before removing them from the pan and throwing the rest of the sauce together. The orange peel and thyme added an interesting yet muted flavor to the straightforward tomato-garlic combination. If I made these again, I'd double the sauce ingredients, because it was delicious and far better than the pork, which, despite its Whole Foods pedigree, tasted sadly of very little.
It makes me wonder: when I made these chops, lamenting the fact I'd bought the pork shrink-wrapped from D'Agostino's, the outcome was actually much tastier. Maybe Elizabeth David's cooking technique (in the oven) does more for the pork flavor than Deane's? In both cases, however, I wished there had been more sauce.
I'm not sure what my preference for sauce over meat actually says about my future as a carnivore, but I'll leave you with this: if you can find pork chops that are thinner than 3/4 of an inch (and therefore it's practically an impossibility that you live in the United States), you would have quite a delicious time at dinner if you heated up a pan until it was very hot, then threw in those thin chops along with a few paper-thin slices of lemon and some soaked, salted capers. The cooking time takes all of a few minutes on each side, and you end up with a citrusy, salty, finger-blistering chop that could convert most vegetarians to the dark side.
Pork Chops with Fresh Tomato Sauce
2 center-cut loin pork chops
1 clove garlic, cut in half
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
2 teaspoons butter
2 teaspoons olive oil
1 cup seeded, diced Roma tomatoes
1/3 cup chicken broth
Sprig of thyme
3-inch strip of orange peel
12 small green olives
1. Pat any moisture from the surface of the pork chops. Rub both sides of the each chop with the cut clove of garlic. Season with salt and pepper. Mince the garlic, and reserve.
2. Heat the butter and oil in a heavy 10-inch saute pan over medium-high heat. Add the pork chops and brown both sides of the pork, about 5 to 6 minutes on each side. During the last minute of cooking, turn the pork chops on end to sear the edges. Remove the chops from the skillet to a plate, cover and keep warm.
3. Add the minced garlic to the skillet and saute about 10 seconds. Add the tomatoes, stirring to scrape up the browned bits in the bottom of the pan.
4. Stir in the broth to deglaze the pan. Add the thyme, orange peel and olives. Bring to a simmer and cook 1 minute. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Add the browned pork chops with any drippings back into the pan.
5. Simmer 5 to 8 minutes, stirring the sauce occasionally, until the pork chops are still pink in the center.