Fallen Out of Love with Pork Chops?

27 Sep

— Get the Love back with Pesto Pork Chops!

I’m not certain when it happened. One day he was part of my life and the next I barely wanted him around the house. And when he was invited, he just didn’t hit the sweet spot anymore. I called it quits. Pork Chops.

Yup. Once a staple of my diet, chops lost their appeal for me long ago. Even as I continued to keep company with his elegant older brother, Tenderloin, his friendly cousin, Ribs, and his ever salty friend, Bacon.

Recently I came upon a recipe in the Ottawa Citizen for a pork chop recipe that made me reconsider the Pork Chop’s potential. Perhaps done up this way — a better dressed, more elegant version of his old self — and appearing more efficient and hard working I’d have another fling with my old beau, Chop. Everyone deserves a second chance, right?

Right. Pesto Pork Chops offers a sophisticated, more satisfying way to prepare pork. And like the best of lovers, this dish is ready to enjoy in a flash.

I make my own pesto (which is quite easy), but you can use a good-quality, store-bought one for this recipe. As a Savvy Single, you’ll find lots of uses for pesto — from dressing up pasta, to flavouring vegetables to topping fish or chicken. I made the full recipe (4 servings) when it came to the accompanying vegetables, but cooked only 2 pork chops.

The recipe uses both fresh and dried oregano. I started by collecting the herbs and the vegetables. I washed, dried and pulled the leaves off two long sprigs of fresh oregano. Instead of chopping, I scissor the herbs (in a drinking glass) to create a tablespoon of chopped oregano.

The onion and red sweet (bell) pepper are thinly sliced. Set a large saucepan of water on the stove to boil. Preheat the oven to 400°F.

You will need two skillets, the recipe calls for both of them to be non-stick and one of them needs to withstand the heat of the 400°F oven. I didn’t have one like that, so I used a copper sauté pan to cook the chops, taking extreme care when removing it from the oven.

First, brown chops on the stove top

Season two boneless pork loin chops (approx. 160g each or 5oz each) with the ground pepper and dried oregano. Add 1 teaspoon Extra-Virgin olive oil to your oven-worthy skillet. In the copper pan I added a bit more oil and brushed it all around the base and sides of the skillet. Over medium-high heat, brown both sides of the chops. Spread the top of each chop with 3/4 tablespoon of the (gluten-free) pesto sauce. Place the skillet in the pre-heated oven and set your timer for 10 minutes.

Add enough dried rotini pasta for two servings (125g or 1/4lb) to your pot of boiling water. It will be ready 9 minutes after the water starts to boil again. Stir occasionally.

In your second skillet, heat 1 teaspoon of EVOO over medium heat, add the sliced onions, sliced red pepper and 1TBSP of chopped, fresh Oregano. Cook, stirring occasionally for 8 minutes until the vegetables are softened, but not burning.

Saute onion, red pepper & fresh oregano

In the meantime, grate approximately 1/8th (25ml) cup of Parmesan cheese. Get your sour cream and butter out, along with a one Tablespoon measure, ready to go. Measure out 2/3 cup (160mL) of sodium-reduced, (gluten-free), vegetable juice/cocktail.

Add the vegetable juice and a pinch of salt (which I omitted) to the pan of cooked onions and red peppers. Allow the liquid to simmer until all the moisture is absorbed, approximately 5 minutes. You will need to stir this occasionally to prevent scorching.

Add vegetable juice to pan & simmer until liquid is absorbed.

If you do not have a bottle or lunch-box-sized can of vegetable cocktail juice, a substitute would be easy to arrange. Use a small can of tomato sauce (or even pizza sauce), perhaps thinned a little with water and seasoned with salt & pepper, a bit of celery salt and garlic powder.

Meanwhile, using a heavy-duty oven mitt remove the pork chop pan from the oven. Allow the meat to rest in the skillet until ready to serve.

Pesto Pork after 10 minutes in the oven

Drain the rotini, but do not rinse it. Return the pasta to the cooking pan. Add 1 TSBP butter, 1 TBSP sour cream and the 1/8th cup of grated Parmesan cheese. Season with salt and pepper to taste and stir to mix and fully coat the coiled noodles.

On your dinner plate, spoon out ½ of the vegetable mixture and set a Pesto Pork chop upon the veggie nest. Spoon a serving of Parmesan Rotini onto the plate. Serve with steamed broccoli, a green salad or other green vegetable.

Sour Cream, Butter, Grated Parmesan for rotini

I found the dish very flavourful. The chops are strongly flavoured by the oregano and the basil. The pesto’s cheese melts nicely in the oven and the ground pine nuts in the pesto give the topping a nice texture. The pork was not over-cooked or dried-out using this method. And the cheesy pasta offered a tasty, softer counterpoint to the chop and vegetables.

But the best thing about this recipe? It comes together in about 30 minutes. The recipe was created by the folks at Ontario Pork and they were correct in touting it as “an easy mid-week meal.” But its flavour and colourful presentation make it a great option for a weekend, friends-to-dinner meal — after an activity-filled day of hiking or skiing or antiquing. You will look like a culinary rock star. I promise!

Dress the Parmesean Rotini

Pesto Pork Chops (adjusted for 2 servings of meat)

2                                                  boneless pork loin chops, approximately 160g/5 oz each
½ tsp (2.5 mL)                        dried oregano leaves
pinch                                          freshly ground black pepper
2 tsp (10mL)                             extra-virgin olive oil, (divided)
1½ TBSP (23mL)                    gluten-free basil pesto sauce
1                                                  onion, thinly sliced
1                                                  red sweet (Bell) pepper, thinly sliced
1 TBSP (15mL)                         chopped fresh oregano
2/3 cup (160mL)                     sodium-reduced, gluten-free vegetable cocktail
pinch                                          salt (optional)

Parmesan Rotini

1/4 lb (125g)                              rotini
1 TBSP (12.5mL)                      butter, softened
1/8 cup (25mL)                        freshly grated Parmesan cheese, or more
1 TBSP (12.5 mL)                     sour cream
Salt & pepper to taste

Source: The Canadian Living Rush Hour Cookbook, Telemedia Publishing Inc, and The Madison Press Limited, 1989, page 20.)

Plate Parmesan Rotini and Pest Pork Chops and serve!

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