Pork Chops with Gently Vinegared Peppers
Veal and Yellow Peppers
Veal and peppers and pork chops with vinegar peppers were two extremely popular dishes among Italian-Americans during the sixties and seventies, when I was a kid. They have their origins in the cooking of Campania and Calabria, in the South, but variations on them turn up in the mountainous Abruzzi as well. I like both dishes in theory, but I’ve never loved them as made by most Italian-Americans, including, I’m sorry to say, my own family. I want to, but I can’t help thinking that if they’re worth cooking, they must be worth cooking better. My problem has always been with the peppers. People almost always make the pork chops with jarred pickled peppers, which are so acidic they make my eyes water. They overpower the pork, wine, and garlic, and absolutely smother delicate fresh herbs like basil or parsley. And to make the dish even sharper, most cooks pour a healthy amount of the pickling liquid into the pan at the last minute. Those jarred peppers are classically served, as they should be, with rich, oily cured sausage, where their reason for being becomes apparent and they actually taste delicious. Many traditional recipes call for gently pickling your own peppers, but even in Italy they use jarred peppers more often than not. I make a sautéed and gently vinegared pepper for my version of this classic.
Your choice of vinegar for a dish that relies on vinegar for prominent flavoring is very important. Here I use sherry wine vinegar for its earthy, musty tone (most Italian-Americans use white-wine vinegar, which can be good if you choose a high quality one). Also I roast the peppers, which leaves them soft, sweet, and porous (more willing to soak up seasonings).
My problem with veal and peppers is the green peppers with their skins left on. Green peppers are strongly flavored to begin with, and they can become harsh when cooked in their skins. It’s not that they don’t have a place in the world that way; they can be enjoyable as an isolated taste, as in many cooked Moroccan salads that contain only stewed green peppers, usually in the skin, and maybe a little tomato. Since veal is such a mild meat, I’ve chosen roasted, sweeter peppers as a nice change. They don’t radically alter the character of the dish, but they do soften it. I picked yellow peppers, which are not as sweet as red ones but still become mellow when roasted (although the roasting turns them a little brown, so you don’t get that gorgeous color in the stew).
Pork Chops with Gently Vinegared Peppers
Manducatis is an old-fashioned Southern Italian trattoria in Long Island City, New York. They turn out refined versions of standbys such as pasta e fagiole and eggplant Parmigiano that put other old-fashioned Italian restaurants to shame. They make a light and lively version of pork chops and peppers using red Italian frying peppers, the long skinny ones. I prefer the sweetness of bell peppers, so they’re what I’ve used here. Otherwise the dish is similar.
Thick, pink pork chops look so beautiful raw that you just assume they will be juicy and wonderful when cooked, but I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been disappointed by dry, tough chops, either when eating out or preparing them myself. Now I’ve learned. Pork chops need to be cooked quickly, leaving them slightly pink, or else they will get tough. The best way I’ve found is to brown them on one side over high heat, turn them over, lower the heat to medium-low, and finish cooking them gently and quickly until they are just tender and still fairly pink. The other way to produce tender chops is by long, slow braising. Anything in between will make them tough.
2 medium-size red bell peppers
Extra-virgin olive oil
2 fresh medium-hot cherry peppers, cut in half and seeded (these are the kind usually found pickled and jarred)
2 garlic cloves, very thinly sliced
A small red onion, thinly sliced
2 anchovy fillets, chopped
3 tablespoons sherry wine vinegar
2 large bone-in center-cut loin pork chops about 1 1/2 inches thick
About 1/4 cup Wondra flour
A generous splash of dry white wine
2 large marjoram sprigs, the leaves lightly chopped
A few basil leaves, lightly chopped
Roast the peppers under a hot broiler close to the heat until black and blistered all over. Run them very briefly under cold water just to cool them slightly. Peel and seed them and chop them into small cubes.
In a small skillet, heat a few tablespoons of olive oil over medium flame. Add the fresh cherry peppers, garlic, and onion, and sauté a minute to soften. Add the roasted peppers, the anchovy, season with a little salt, and sauté about 3 minutes longer, just until everything is tender and fragrant. Pour on the vinegar and let it bubble until almost evaporated. Set aside.
In a medium-size heavy-bottomed skillet, heat a few tablespoons of olive oil over medium-high flame. Dry the pork chops well, coat them lightly with flour, and season them on both sides with salt. When the pan is hot, add the chops and brown on one side, about 4 minutes. Turn the chops over, lower the heat to medium-low, and cook until they are tender with a fair amount of pink at the bone, about another 4 or 5 minutes, depending on how thick they are. Add the white wine and let it bubble for a few seconds. Turn the heat to very low, cover the pan, and cook gently for about another minute, until the chops have only a touch of pink to them.
Add the marjoram and basil to the vinegared peppers and stir to blend them in (if the peppers have cooled too much, reheat them gently before you add the herbs).
Remove the chops from the skillet to a serving plate. If you have more than about 3 tablespoons of skillet liquid left in the pan, reduce it over high heat and pour it over the chops; if it is already reduced to less, just go ahead and pour it over as is. Pour the peppers on top of the chops. Serve right away.
My mother always served this dish with chunks of oven roasted potatoes, seasoned with olive oil and black pepper, and I still think they are the best accompaniment.
Veal and Yellow Peppers
When I was a kid, veal and peppers were fast food available at every pizza place in New York, usually spooned into a big hero sandwich. My father loved that, but he said it gave him agita (it was those pepper skins). My version is more a proper stew, with broth and no skins. I like garnishing the finished dish with fried capers and serving it with polenta.
A few words about canned plum tomatoes: I’ve always like Muir Glen Organic whole canned tomatoes. Not only are they fresh, red, and bright tasting, but they’re packed in enamel-lined cans, so you don’t get any of that metallic taste that can sometimes be a problem even with imported Italian brands. I’ve just discovered Muir Glen’s canned diced tomatoes, and they are wonderful. I usually never buy chopped or puréed tomatoes from other companies; they’re generally packed in a thick tomato paste, making them heavy-tasting and adding an unwanted smoothness to the sauce. Muir Glen packs theirs in a light tomato broth. They also cut them into neat, uniform pieces that look beautiful in a sauce, especially if you like your tomato sauces to have a little texture.
(Serves 4 or 5)
Extra-virgin olive oil
3 pounds veal shoulder, cut into approximately 2-inch chunks
1/2 cup Wondra flour for dredging
A few thin slices of fatty prosciutto end, well chopped
1 small onion, cut into small dice
2 garlic cloves, peeled and lightly smashed
A few gratings of nutmeg
3/4 cup dry Marsala
1 1/2 cups homemade or low-salt canned chicken broth (Swanson is the best)
1 15-ounce can plum tomatoes, drained and well chopped (see above for a brand I like)
1 bay leaf
3 roasted yellow peppers (broiled on all sides until blackened, and then peeled), cut into medium dice
1/4 cup salt-packed capers, soaked in several changes of cool water for 1/2 hour and then well rinsed
The juice and zest from 1/2 lemon
A large handful of flat-leaf parsley leaves, chopped
Choose a large casserole fitted with a lid. Heat a few tablespoons of olive oil over medium-high flame. Dry the veal chunks and toss to coat them with the flour (Wondra is a finely ground white flour that will give a nice crisp crust to the meat as it browns and also thicken the sauce lightly as the stew simmers). Add the veal to the casserole and brown well all over (you may need to do this in batches if your casserole is small). Veal can sometimes give off a foam as it begins to cook, and this can impede browning. The best thing to do is to let the veal cook without moving it around (moving it can actually cause it to give off more foam) until the foam evaporates and the meat starts to brown. Season the meat with a bit of salt. Add the chopped prosciutto and the onion, and sauté until the onion softens, about 3 minutes. Add the garlic and grate the nutmeg on. Sauté a minute longer, just to release the flavors. Add the Marsala and let it bubble for about 2 minutes. Add the chicken broth, the tomatoes, and the bay leaf. Bring to a boil. Turn the flame to low, cover the casserole, and simmer for about an hour.
After an hour, add the roasted peppers and simmer, uncovered, for about another half hour, or until the meat is very tender (uncovering the casserole in the final stages of cooking will evaporate some liquid and help thicken the sauce). Skim the surface of excess fat and foam.
Dry the capers well with paper towels. In a small sauté pan, heat about a tablespoon of olive oil over medium flame. When hot, add the capers and sauté until they start to open up (looking like the little flowers that they in fact are) and become crisp, about 2 to 3 minutes.
Add the lemon zest and juice and the parsley to the stew. Stir and taste for seasoning. Garnish with the capers. Serve with polenta or rice, or just with good Italian bread).