Chef Hardcore has spent the last 20 years trying new recipes, resurrecting original ones from history, and perfecting more than a few. His passion lies in creating delicious food with simple processes and ingredients that make people smile with delight. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Forget chicken, which everyone does *insert eye roll*, and shrimp (how often can you afford shrimp?). Today we are going to add pork chops to our alfredo. The traditional way to make an alfredo sauce is to just add Parmesan Reggiano and butter to the noodles tableside, but as Americans we have gotten used to a bunch of other ingredients that we think make up an alfredo sauce. So, you can ignore the store-bought sauce section and take a trip back to the Via della Scrofa in Rome in 1914, or you can go get a jar of “alfredo” from your favorite grocer.
We can go traditional, or we can make an “American” version from scratch (if you would like a recipe how to do this, please let me know), or we can buy one and then add to it in order to suit our taste. Much like our red sauce (gravy) we made for the lasagna, it all comes down to what you like and pretty much how much time you want to put into it. In the world of cooking, USUALLY the more time you spend making it, the better it the end result.
Today we will go simple. Go to the grocer and get a decent “alfredo sauce” in a jar. What is decent? Well, in my opinion, not anything by Ragu. Other than that you should be fine. Take a look at it. Is it thin or thick? Are there a bunch of ingredients in it that you can’t pronounce? Just pick one that looks good. We can always make it better later.
I always like to start warming my sauce first. Just pour it into a pot and set it over low heat. Really low. Cheese and milk scorch very easily. Remember, if there are only two of you, then you will most likely only need a half jar. Unless you want leftovers, then go ahead and use the whole jar (and double the pasta). Let it warm up a bit and then taste it. Tasting is paramount to cooking great food. If YOU don’t know how it tastes then why are you serving it to someone else? Try it. Do you like it? Do you love it? Why not? What is it missing? What do you prefer? Remember, cooking is also about what you like to taste. Make it yours. Most of the time it is easier to modify something to get it to where you want it instead of creating it from scratch. At least when you are first starting out creating dishes. After you get a feel for what your style is then go ahead and forget the jar!
MEAT!! (Are you sensing a theme?)
Once you have the sauce where you think you will be OK, then turn your attention to the chops. You can use whatever you want: bone-in, center cut, boneless, thick, thin, pre-seasoned. Heck, cut them from a loin yourself if you are feeling adventurous and a little butcher-y. In this version, I used three “breakfast chops,” as they are called here in Tennessee. They are really thin cut chops that I got a great deal on in bulk, and froze a few for later. For the really thin ones I don’t tenderize them, but for your normal chop I would go ahead and beat them up a bit. There are many ways to do this, but the most effective way I was taught is to use a fork. Yup, my dad used a fork to tenderize just about everything other than chicken. (I don’t know why not chicken, I guess I would have to ask.) I prefer to season the meat before tenderizing as it then drives the seasoning into the meat, but you can do it however you want. If you like really bland food then just go ahead and fork away! For this recipe, I used some of my Hardcore Smokehouse Porkfection Rub sprinkled over the chops. You can add whatever you prefer and then aerate them to loosen the muscle fibers enough so that they won’t be tough.
*Check your sauce to make sure it isn’t burning. Stir it. Taste it. The taste will change as it heats up. Do you still like it? If not, change it.
*Start heating up a pan for the chops and veggies. I used my Wagner 9 cast iron pan.
Now that you are OK with your sauce (or so you think…), it is time to make the noodles. I used medium shells, but you can use whatever pasta floats your goat. Really. No one else will care. Choose your favorite. Wait, no. Choose your significant other’s favorite (if you have one). Brownie points. You’re welcome.
To make pasta just do this: Put the amount of pasta you want in a pot. Cover it with enough water so that there is at least a half inch above the pasta. Add a bunch of salt to the water. However much you might like. This takes a little trial and error. Start with about one tablespoon per person*. Put it on the stove over high heat and then check it after 11 minutes. There is absolutely NO reason to boil the water first. Forget what your Mom told you. She was wrong.
Once your sauce is simmering and your meat is seasoned and tenderized (and resting so it starts getting closer to room temperature, which means it will cook a bit faster and more evenly), you can move on to the veggies. This time I used asparagus, and then added some red bell pepper for some sweetness and a splash of color. Obviously, you can use whatever veggies you want to. Don’t like asparagus? Don’t use it.
Asparagus is fairly easy to prepare. Buy some, bring it home, rinse it in cold water, and then snap off the white parts. Every stalk should break off near the point where they would start getting bitter once you cook them. Isn’t nature neat?
For the red bell pepper, I decided to cut them into slices about a quarter of an inch wide. You could make them thinner, or thicker, or dice them. It is up to you and how you want it to look.
Meat and Two
For this dish, I prepared the cast iron by melting some butter in it over medium heat. How much? How much do you like butter? How much butter do you want to taste in your chops and veggies? In all seriousness, I just used a tablespoon, but you can use as much butter as your heart can take… I mean desires. Yeah, that’s what I meant. Yes, you can use margarine (yuck) or EVOO instead. You can even use VOO, or grapeseed oil, or coconut oil, or whatever you like or happen to have on hand to help the ingredients not stick to the pan. Get the bottom of the pan coated with whatever you decided to use and then toss those chops in there.
Now ignore them for 5-10 minutes (depending on how thick they are) and go stir that sauce. You tasted it,
right? Why would you stir it and not taste it? Also, your pasta is probably done. You should take it off the burner, put it in a colander (reserving about a half cup of the pasta water), and let it drain. DON’T RINSE IT!! Return the pasta to the pot and just let it sit on the stove with the burner off so it doesn’t get cold. Take that pasta water and add it to your still-simmering sauce. Trust me.
Smell that pork cooking? That probably means that it is time to flip those chops. Once you do, go ahead and toss that asparagus in there right next to them. You can add some more butter, or oil, or whatever the heck you are using to the asparagus if you want. Then add some seasoning. What kind? I have no idea what YOU like, but I could suggest some garlic and cayenne. Maybe some thyme and rosemary instead. You could also toss some Herbs de
Provence on there, or just go with some salt and pepper. Use a lid if you have one to fit the pan, or use a large, stainless steel bowl if you don’t.
I like using a bowl that is slightly offset so that I am pseudo-steaming the veggies but not the pork. This also helps keep the meat moist as I am not
letting all the water evaporate from the pan and disappear.
About two minutes later, add the red pepper. This way it will be warm but not mushy and will be full of flavor. You can pout them right on top of the asparagus so that they don’t sear at all, or you can put them in the bottom of the pan and sear them. Up to you. Put the lid back on.
Get those dishes ready! Don’t forget to put the salt and pepper grinders on the table, along with some napkins. Do you remember how your place settings are supposed to look? We will need a fork and a knife for each person. Hopefully not a steak knife, but you can put one out there, and when your SO realizes the chops can be cut with a fork you will gain extra brownie points. You’re welcome.
Here we go: Grab a serving of pasta. Put it on the plate. Cover it in sauce. Turn off the burner for the skillet and pull those chops off. Slice them against the grain and place them either next to the pasta or on top (You can also just serve the chops whole). No one really cares. It will look good either way. Then grab some of those veggies and make it look pretty. They can be together, or on opposite sides of the plate. What looks good to you? Once you have everything on the plate toss some grated Parmesan** on there. On everything. Or not. Up to you. Maybe just the pasta. Unless you really like cheese like we do, then it goes on everything. You can also add a garnish. Fresh parsley works, or cilantro, or oregano. Maybe some paprika. Hmm…
Sauce: 2 people = one half jar of sauce. Unless you really like sauce, then use the whole thing. Add whatever spices you want to it.
Pasta: Whatever kind you like. One serving per person. Look at the box.
Chops: 1 per person, unless one of you eats a lot, then make two for them. Spices to dust them with.
Veggies: 4-6 stalks of asparagus per person
Maybe some spices
One half red bell pepper (sliced or diced) per two people
* Salt raises the boiling point of water. So, the more you add, the hotter (and longer) it will take to reach boiling. This is OK, just learn to deal with it, or don’t add salt if you are in the Rockies and your stove sucks at boiling water.
** Or whatever hard cheese you have laying around. Asiago would be splendid. If you don’t have any hard cheese left over from making the lasagna dish I posted about, you can substitute any other cheese, shredded or sliced or grated. Just not that fake stuff they sell in the green containers. Remember?