This recipe was inspired by one of 3 cookbooks I bought in Florence at a little shop attached to an Olivetan monastery. It was a spectacular place situated on the highest point in the city. The monastery stood next to the oldest church in Florence; San Miniato al Monte
It was quite a trek to the top, but the view was worth the leg pain.
The church (my favorite since the beginning of my Italian exploration)), and the view were unforgettable, but, the most memorable thing about the place was the graveyard. It was typically Italian in that it was full of family mausoleums’, and tightly packed gravestones, but it went on forever. Also, I had never experienced such monumental rivalry to have the most impressive final resting place!
I was moved by how the dead were remembered.
It was a very brisk and windy day, and I ducked into a tiny gift shop, the monks ran, in one of the out buildings. It was warm and cozy, and I quickly got lost in all the little trinkets and curiosities that were for sale. They produced their own jams, and honey, and made beautiful beeswax candles. They also had a large apothecary section filled with tinctures for curing all manner of ills. I wanted it all.
I decided to be sensible and buy something that was neither breakable nor impractical. On a more hidden set of shelves I discovered some sweet little cookbooks. My friend Shawn said the covers looked like poetry books, and that increased their appeal tenfold. They were filled with very basic Tuscan recipes, and sprinkled throughout were little line drawings of Italian landscapes.
I picked out three and have been enjoying reading them these past few days. My son also perused the pages, and requested something that I had already marked as a potential dish to be made in the near future: Pork Chops with Wild Fennel.
We picked out some great looking chops from one of several butcher shops in town, and I adapted the recipe. I changed and added things as I went to suit our taste and needs, and turned out a splendid feast of a dinner.
I loved how the red wine permeated the onions, and the fennel seeds (not wild, I’m afraid), gave the chops a sweet liquorish-y taste.
The food coming out of my new kitchen seems to be very influenced by what I can find locally, and everything tastes richer. It may be that I am seeing this new world through rose-colored glasses, but I’m telling you, my food tastes better!
Costolette Maiale con Finocchietto (Pork Chops with Fennel)
You will need: 6 pork chops (medium thickness), 3 medium onions, halved, then thinly sliced into ½ moons, 4 tbs extra-virgin olive oil, 14 oz can plum tomatoes, with their juices, 1 tbs tomato puree concentrate, ½ tbs fennel seeds, 1 ¼ cups red wine, 1 cup chicken broth, sea salt & freshly cracked black pepper to season meat, and to taste.
Preheat oven 375*
1 –Season the chops with sea-salt and black pepper.
2 – Put sauté pan on med/high heat and add 2 tbs of oil. Sear the chops in batches until they are lightly browned on both sides, adding more oil as needs be. Transfer to casserole or lidded pot as you go. Sprinkle the fennel seeds over the pork and set aside.
3 – Turn heat down to medium/low and add sliced onions. Sauté for 8 to 10 minutes until they begin to soften.
4 – Turn up heat and add the wine. Let it bubble and cook until the wine has evaporated and onions have absorbed the flavor (and the color!).
5 – Turn heat down to medium and add the tomatoes, their juices and chicken broth. Cook until mixture begins to bubble. Pour over the chops and cover with lid (or foil if you don’t have one) Transfer to oven for 45 minutes. Remove form oven and let the pot sit for 10 minutes before removing lid.
Serve as is, with crusty bread, or, with pasta (like above).