Costolette di Maiale Con Salvia

From Jamie’s Italy (Hyperion, 2006)

Pork chops are a pretty regular occurrence in Italy. They can be cooked in many, many way: but this recipe is one of my favorites. When I first saw it being made in a trattoria in Florence on my first-ever trip to Italy, the young lady who was making it inserted a small paring knife into the side of the chops and moved it from side to side to create a little pocket inside the meat. It was clever, as you couldn’t tell from the outside that this “flavor pocket” was there. A little pork fat or butter can be rubbed inside the pocket and then you can add some prosciutto fat, or smashed-up chestnuts or walnuts (depending on what’s in season). A little fresh sage should always be added, and maybe a little garlic. I like to add a tiny amount of lemon zest as well, as it’s best friends with pork. Have a go at trying this pocket trick.

Serves 4

2-1/2 lb. all-purpose potatoes, peeled and diced
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 thick pork chops, on the bone
24 fresh sage leaves
1 bulb of garlic
4 slices of prosciutto
4 tablespoons butter, finely diced
4 dried apricots
extra virgin olive oil
6 thick strips of pancetta or bacon (1/2 inch thick, if possible), or an 8-oz. package of pancetta lardons

  1. Preheat the oven to 425°F. Put your potatoes into a pot of salted water and bring to a boil. Give them 3 or 4 minutes – you only want to parboil them – then drain them and allow them to steam dry.
  2. Lay your pork chops on a board and insert a small paring knife horizontally into the side of each chop to make a hidden pocket. Make sure the tip of your knife stays in the middle of the chop, as you don’t want to cut through the meat to either side. Be careful -watch your fingers!
  3. Set aside 8 of the largest sage leaves. Add 8 more leaves to your food processor with a peeled clove of garlic, the prosciutto, butter, apricots, and a pinch of salt and pepper and give it a whiz. This is now a beautifully flavored butter that can be divided between the pork chops and pushed into the pockets.
  4. Dress the 8 large sage leaves that you set aside with a little oil and press one side of them into some flour. Press a leaf, flour side down, onto each side of the chops (so you have 2 leaves on each chop). Leave the chops on a plate, covered with plastic wrap, to come to room temperature while you get your potatoes ready.
  5. If you’re using thick strips of pancetta, slice them into matchsticks, as thick as a pencil. Put them into a large roasting pan, with your potatoes, the remaining sage leaves, and the rest of your whole unpeeled garlic cloves. Drizzle with a little extra virgin olive oil and put the pan into the preheated oven.
  6. After 10 minutes, put a frying pan on the burner and get it very hot. Add a touch of olive oil and put in your seasoned pork chops. Fry for 10 minutes, until golden and crisp on both sides, then remove the pan of potatoes from the oven – they should be nice and light golden by now – and place the chops on top. Put the pan back into the oven for 10-15 minutes, depending on how thick the chops are, then remove the pan from the oven and serve.