This article kicks off a new once-a-week feature entitled "Five Ingredients Or Less," intended to prove that just a handful of ingredients treated with a little love can produce big flavor in no time flat. Each of the original dishes featured will include no more than five ingredients, excluding salt, pepper, and oil.
Pork chops are a wonderful food. They are inexpensive, and can often be found on sale. They cook quickly. They have an inherently mild flavor, so they offer themselves to an endless train of flavor combinations and accompaniments. Pesto pulls double duty in this dish, acting as a finishing glaze for the pork, as well as a dressing for the accompanying pasta. Serve it with some brightly-colored mixed vegetables or a green salad to round out the meal. Better yet, serve a caprese salad, and the entire meal will be reminiscent of the Italian flag!
Pesto Pork Chops with Angel Hair Pasta
1/2 lb. angel hair pasta or thin spaghetti
4 4-oz. center-cut boneless pork chops, about 1 inch thick if possible
2 garlic cloves, minced
salt & pepper
1/2 C store-bought or homemade pesto (see recipe below)
Preheat oven to 375 degrees (f)
Prepare the ingredients: First, get pasta water going according to box instructions. Make sure to salt the water liberally, since it's the only chance to get flavor into the pasta. While the water is coming to a boil, season the pork chops on both sides with salt and pepper. Heat about 2 T of olive oil in a large oven-safe pan over medium-high heat. Add the garlic and cook for about 1 minute, until it starts to release its aroma.
Cook: Try to put the pasta in the water and the chops in the oil at the same time. Cook pasta according to box instructions. Sear pork chops for about 3 minutes on each side. Move the pan to the oven to finish cooking, about another 5 minutes. When the chops come out of the oven, top each chop with about 1 T of pesto. Use the back of a spoon to spread the pesto over the top of the meat as it melts. Put a lid or some aluminum foil on the pan to keep the chops warm while they rest. Drain the pasta and return it to its pan. Shuffle the pan over a hot burner a little to evaporate any remaining water. Add the remaining pesto to this pan and toss it through the pasta.
Plate to impress: To make this dish suitable for company, use some tongs to mound about 1/4 of the pasta in the center of one plate. Insert a two-pronged meat fork in the center of the mound and turn clockwise, sort of like twirling spaghetti when eating it. This will give the pasta a nest-like arrangement. Lay one pork chop atop the nest at an angle, so that it's standing up slightly. Garnish with a little basil sprig if one is available, and maybe a sprinkle of freshly-grated parmesan cheese. Repeat with the remaining plates.
To make your own pesto: Making pesto requires cups of basil, and is a great thing to do in the summer, when basil is in season and large quantities can be had for little money. Local farmer's markets, such as the Saturday Market in Downtown Greenville, or the State Farmer's Market on Rutherford Road, often have vendors selling basil by the bunch. Another unlikely place where I have encountered cheap basil is the Saigon Market, a Vietnamese grocery on Wade Hampton Boulevard near BJU. I once bought a full pound of basil leaves there in October for $2.90! Making and freezing pesto locks in the herb's summer-fresh taste to be revisited in the dead of winter. Please don't go to the grocery store and buy four of those little packets of basil to make pesto; in this situation, jarred pesto from the pasta aisle is just fine.
Summer From the Freezer Pesto
Makes about 2 cups
4 cups basil leaves, washed and checked for snails and other garden creatures
3 cloves of garlic, peeled and smashed
Juice of 1 lemon
1/4 cup toasted pine nuts, walnuts, or pepitas (pumpkin seeds)
1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
Using a food processor or blender, begin blending basil, garlic, and lemon juice, and pine nuts together. Stream in olive oil while mixing, until it looks right, usually 1/4-1/2 cup. This depends on the water content of the leaves, so just look for the mix to begin to resemble a wet relish. When in doubt, add a little oil, blend, check for consistency, repeat. Season with salt and parmesan cheese, and give a final mixing to incorporate everything. A little pesto goes a long way, so divide into 1/4-cup portions and freeze.