I’ve made three dishes to date from Suzanne Dunaway’s Rome at Home (Broadway Books, 2004), and all of them have been not only exceedingly delicious, but stupendously easy to make -- from straccetti con la rughetta ("tattered" strips of beef with arugula), an Italian variation on a Chinese stir fry (cue rugula as a substitute for Chinese broccoli), to spaghetti alle vongole veraci, the classic dish of spaghetti with tiny clams or cockles (more on this in a future post).
My favorite dish so far is braciole di maiele o vitello, grilled pork or veal chops with sage, garlic, and lemon.
The name is a slight misnomer since the instructions mainly involve pan-roasting rather than grilling the pork, though there is a footnote describing a grilled variation. The recipe is one of those minimalist dishes that is just pork chops, sage, garlic, lemon, cracked black pepper, and salt, and nothing more.
I started to make the dish by dropping about 10 sage leaves into extra virgin olive oil that had been warming in a skillet over a medium-high flame. I let the sage sizzle away for thirty seconds or so until it began to curl and crisp, then removed it with a slotted spoon (don’t let it burn). Into the oil went sliced garlic, which I sautéed until golden and then removed to the plate with the sage.
I then added the pork chops, seasoned with salt and pepper, to the pan with the olive oil, now infused with the sage and garlic. While the recipe called for four 5-6 oz. bone-in pork chops, I couldn’t find any. Most of them were humongous, weighing closer to 12 oz. or more each. Eschewing these dinosaur chops, I bought boneless ones instead. While they were just as huge as their bone-in counterparts, at least they could easily be split in half to make two reasonably sized chops. I cooked the pork chops mainly on one side until the surface had browned and caramelized, flipped them, and then cooked them on the other side for a few minutes until the meat, frequently pressing my finger into the surface to feel if the meat had cooked through without become overdone.
For the final step, the reserved sage and garlic are returned to the pan, along with the juice of one lemon. If the juice evaporates immediately, you may want to add more. The lemon, sage, garlic, and browned bits scraped from the bottom of the pan are swirled together to form a sauce. Once it comes together, remove the chops from the pan and serve immediately on warmed plates.
Sage is the key to the success of this dish. It is such a powerful ingredient that just tearing the leaves from the stems to prepare the dish seemed to perfume the kitchen with its piney aroma. The sage leaves not only infused the pork with great flavor, but fried to a crisp in olive oil, they added a wonderfully crunchy textural element.