Ancient Island, New Idea

In the annals of food, many boneless pork chops have ended up sliced for positioning atop a salad. But we have no record of any salad anywhere becoming a pork chop. We do, however, think this is a trend worth encouraging – especially when the pork chop shows up named after one of our favorite places, the Italian island of Capri.

To get to Capri, as many know, all you do is catch a ferry or a faster hydrofoil from the port of Naples. You can spend the day swimming from its rocky beaches (small boats for a few dollars take you there from the port), or hire one of the small boats to the famous Blue Grotto (for more than a few dollars, but at least the fares are standardized) or simply walk around the island. We go to Capri as often as humanly possible, since every visit turns up something new. You can even do a decent job if your cruise ships docks in Naples for one day, though some passengers understandably make a beeline to the ruins of Pompeii or less-familiar Herculaneum.  

We say: Do the ruins once and then do Capri every time you’re in the neighborhood. Yes, for the rest of your life.

One time we even managed to stay over several days, taking a small house in the mountaintop village of Anacapri. Regular Capri Town is lower and quite nice too. In either place, if you spend one or more nights, you’ll have the unique pleasure of watching the last tourist ferry pull away in the late afternoon – and there’s practically nobody left except locals. You can pick up one of the best pizzas of your life and take it back to your place or dine in any number of restaurants you couldn’t squeeze into during the tourist day.

Of course, just about everywhere offers Insalata Caprese these days, the island’s signature salad. As with the truest “Greek salads,” this one involves no lettuce. In fact, it’s hard to think of anything simpler. A thick slice of incredible tomato gets topped with fresh mozzarella, a few leaves of the freshest basil and a drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil. On the occasion of our stay some years ago, not a lot of Americans were familiar with “Caprese Salad,” but now it’s served everywhere.

If the ingredients are good, then the salad is good. That’s how most things work in Italian cooking anyway.

The other day we were dreaming of Insalata Caprese and remembering the breathtaking beauty of Capri, where just walking up and down the mountainsides for a few days will make you feel fitter than you’ve ever felt in your life. Just look at the locals, even the ones who might ne 100. So we were thinking of Insalata Caprese until we caught ourselves thinking of pork chops. They really do work quite well together, as it turns out.

PORK CHOPS CAPRESE

This turns an iconic salad from the island of Capri into a satisfying full meal. We all love just about anything Italian that involves melted cheese, whether we get that from pizza or from veal, chicken or eggplant parmigiana. While angel hair pasta is our default side when tossed with the sauce, roasted potatoes can be a delightful change of pace. 

1/2 cup balsamic vinegar

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil divided

3 cloves garlic minced

1/2 teaspoon dried basil

salt and fresh ground pepper to taste

4 boneless center cut pork chops

½ cup grated parmesan cheese

1 ½ cups shredded mozzarella or pizza cheese blend

½ jar Mom’s Spaghetti Sauce

1 to 2 large tomatoes, sliced

1/4 cup freshly chopped basil leaves

Preheat oven to 375F. In a large bowl or a plastic bag, combine balsamic vinegar, 1 tablespoon olive oil, garlic, dried basil, salt and pepper. Add pork chops and toss until coated. Let marinate in the fridge for at least 1 hour and up to 4 hours. Heat remaining olive oil in a cast iron skillet over medium-high heat. Add pork chops to skillet and sear for 4 minutes, or until golden brown. Flip and continue to cook for 4 more minutes.

Remove from heat and top each pork chop with parmesan and mozzarella. Spread sauce around the chops. Place skillet in the oven and cook for 10 minutes, or until sauce is bubbly, cheese is melted and pork is cooked through. Remove from oven and top pork with tomato slices and basil. Spoon sauce from skillet onto the bottom of a serving plate and top the sauce with pork chops. Drizzle with additional olive oil. Season with salt and pepper. Serve with angel hair pasta. Serves 4.

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