Tomato-free Italian: Rosemary sage chops

by Terry B on December 5, 2007

Fresh herbs and garlic give these pan-roasted chops a satisfying depth. Recipe below.

Italian chefs and home cooks are rightly renowned for their way with tomatoes. Others may well use the tomato—the French even dubbed it the pomme d’amour, or love apple, for its supposed aphrodisiacal powers—but the Italians own it.

Unfortunately, as a result, we sometimes forget that there’s a whole world of Italian cooking beyond insalate caprese and bolognese sauce. At least I do. So I was happy to stumble upon Tastes of Italia magazine recently. A number of recipes caught my eye in this issue. I’m sure my takes on more than a few of them will turn up here sooner or later. I’ll start with this one that had me thinking outside the tomato.

This recipe for juicy, quickly prepared chops calls on three other stalwarts of the Italian kitchen—garlic, sage and rosemary. I’ve already pronounced rosemary my favorite of the herb world, and as far as I’m concerned, just about any savory dish can be improved with the addition of garlic. Sage falls more into the category of good intentions for me, though. I always feel I should explore its pungent flavor more, but never quite get around to it. So when I saw this recipe that married it with garlic, rosemary and pork, I had to try it.

The chops are pan roasted, cooked in a covered skillet with the herbs, garlic and some olive oil. Covering the pan holds in moisture, keeping the chops from becoming too dry or tough. This is especially important with today’s pork production methods that create leaner meat; the reduction in fat may be good for our waistlines, but it also makes the meat more prone to drying out. Sometimes when I’m searing chops, I’ll add a little vermouth to the pan when I turn them and cover it to finish the cooking. This also introduces some moisture to the meat, along with a very subtle flavor note, thanks to vermouth’s fairly neutral taste. I may try that the next time I fix these chops as well.

Rosemary Sage Chops
Serves 2 to 4 [see Kitchen Notes]

4 tablespoons olive oil [or less—see Kitchen Notes]
2 tablespoons chopped fresh sage
2 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary
2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
2 to 4 bone-in pork chops, about 8 ounces each [see Kitchen Notes]
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Heat a large skillet over a medium flame. Add olive oil. When it starts to shimmer, stir in sage, rosemary and garlic. Season with salt and pepper and cook for 3 minutes, stirring occasionally.

In the meantime, pat chops dry with a paper towel and season on both sides with salt and pepper. Increase heat on skillet to medium-high and add chops to pan, directly on top of herb/garlic mixture. Cover pan and cook chops undisturbed for 5 minutes. Turn chops, cover pan, reduce heat to medium and cook until just cooked through, about 5 minutes for chops 3/4-inch thick. Adjust time according to thickness of chops. Also given today’s pork production methods, you don’t have to cook it to death. A little pink on the inside is okay, at least with pork purchased in most stores in the United States. Transfer to plates and serve.

Kitchen Notes

That much oil? Really? Four tablespoons of olive oil sounded like a lot when I first read the recipe. I’m used to one or two at most. But then I recalled reading an article in the New Yorker, “The Taming of the Chef.” In it, bad boy chef Gordon Ramsay screams at a cook [I know you’re all just as stunned as I am] for not using enough oil in his pan when he’s cooking a pigeon breast. “More oil in your pan! You’re not cooking it. You’re scorching it. Did you hear me? You’re ruining the dish.” What you need here is enough oil to generously cover the bottom of the pan. Otherwise, you will indeed scorch stuff. For the large, flat-bottomed pan I was using, 4 tablespoons did the trick. Besides, when you’re done, much of the oil remains in the pan.

How many chops? This recipe can serve 2 to 4 people, just by adjusting the number of chops. You don’t have to double anything else, as long as the pan you’re using will accommodate the chops in a single layer. Make sure the chops lie directly on the herbs and garlic—this will impart more flavor to them as they cook. Bits of sage and rosemary will also adhere to the chops, giving nice little extra flavor hits. Pick off any slices of garlic that cling to the chops—that would be overkill.

The original recipe called for a 1-1/2 pound pork loin sliced into 1-inch medallions. I’m sure that would be wonderful—chops were what I had on hand.

Also this week in Blue Kitchen, 12/5/2007

Books as high-tech gadgets. Will Amazon’s new Kindle make books the next iTunes?

Eat, drink and use rosemary. Turns out fish isn’t the only brain food out there—more health benefits cited for alcohol and my favorite herb.


{ 23 comments… read them below or add one }

Kirsten December 5, 2007 at 4:50 am

Looks delicious! I love (and found helpful) the commentary on the moisture issue with pork, and the amount of oil in the pan.

On your comment on my brined pork roast last week…no ham-ness at all actually, but perhaps it is because I just brined it for about 4 hours?

Lovely recipe and photo (as usual!).

Ronnie Ann December 5, 2007 at 5:14 am

Ah! A recipe after my own heart. While I adore tomatoes…would bathe in them if I could – unfortunately I’m allergic. (To them and other foods.) Doesn’t mean I don’t occasionally indulge, but oh how I crave recipes that I can use without even the slightest change. And today…voila! A perfect, simple recipe even a so-so cook like me can prepare! Much thanks, mon ami. Mmmmm…looks so good. Added benefit? Now I can dream of bathing in rosemary!

John December 5, 2007 at 11:47 am

Do you leave the heat at medium-high when you cover the pan, or reduce it?

Lydia December 5, 2007 at 12:28 pm

In many visits to Italy, I’ve spent most of my time in the north, where tomatoes are not the all-purpose background to every dish. This method of cooking works really well with lamb chops and even with beef, to make the delicious fiorentina. Sage and rosemary are two of the three survivors in my herb garden at this time of year (thyme is the other), so I need to get out there and harvest! Great post, thanks.

Shauna December 5, 2007 at 12:54 pm

Have you tried using sweet vermouth? It adds something a bit more than vermouth and is quite wonderful. I’m going to try using more oil!!

Terry B December 5, 2007 at 3:27 pm

Thanks, Kirsten! Glad the brining worked out. I may need to experiment with it again, using your approach.

Ronnie—Let me know how it turns out for you. The meal, I mean. Not the rosemary bath.

John—Good catch! I did indeed reduce the heat to medium. I’ve fixed the recipe. Thanks!

Lydia—Now you’ve totally got me wanting lamb chops. Well, I still have some sage and rosemary left…

Shauna—We sometimes use brandy in the same way. I bet sweet vermouth would be a nice touch.

Jennifer Hess December 5, 2007 at 5:23 pm

You have quite a way with pork, sir. My mouth is watering!

theflyingchef December 5, 2007 at 6:14 pm

I make these all the time, I use racks of lamb, mix sage, rosemary, garlic (crushed) and oil in a bowl, press the mixture onto the outside of lamb rack. I then cook them in the oven for about 20 min’s on 180c. It is only a few simple ingredients, but wow the flavours are awesome, it also creates a wonderful smell in the house.

one food guy December 5, 2007 at 6:16 pm

Mmmmm…some fresh herbs, garlic and olive will make a rock taste good!

Patricia Scarpin December 5, 2007 at 6:28 pm

I was so sad when my rosemary died (Joao was even sadder). I bought a new vase, which is going well, so far.

He would love this dish, Terry.

Terry B December 5, 2007 at 6:35 pm

Jennifer—And pork is so wonderfully varied, isn’t it? Chops, roasts, ham, bacon… all from one convenient source.

theflyingchef—This sounds fabulous! I tend to be a stovetop and hot pan kind of guy, but with cold weather here, I need to explore more roasting. This sounds like a terrific way to start.

one food guy—A little chewy, though.

Patricia—It’s springtime down in Brazil [and with snow on the ground here, I’m totally jealous]. Keep those rosemary vases coming!

Katie December 5, 2007 at 8:34 pm

Great sounding chops – but I love anything with lots of sage in it…and rosemary. I bet it would be good with lamb as well…hmmmm,
As much as I love tomatoes, my bolognese doesn’t have any tomato sauce and only a few whole tomatoes…. You’re right, sometimes we just need to get away from them!

Susan from Food Blogga December 5, 2007 at 11:12 pm

I agree about covering the meat to seal in the moisture and good post title.

Terry B December 6, 2007 at 1:45 am

I really seem to have awakened the inner Italian in a lot of you [well, and the Italian through and through in you, Susan] with this post. I do love cooking with tomatoes, but it’s good to remember that they’re not a requirement of all things Italian.

Katie—I’d love to see your take on bolognese sometime.

Susan—I think I need to try this technique with meats other than pork. Thanks for the idea.

Janice December 6, 2007 at 3:30 am

FYI — tomatoes are NOT Italian by a wide stretch. I always giggle when tomatoes are so connected to Italian cooking. Tomatoes are NEW World, meaning they originated in the western hemisphere; and had not Columbus bumped into said continent, Italian cooking may have remained sans this glorious red fruit!

Terry B December 6, 2007 at 4:32 am

Janice—Yes, and the potato came from South America. Peru or Bolivia, most likely. Name one famous Peruvian potato dish. Or Bolivian. Nobody claims the Italians invented tomatoes. It’s just that nobody else does so many glorious things with them.

Toni December 6, 2007 at 7:26 am

For years I’ve complained that Americans tend to think that Italian food means “red”. In my trips to Italy, I’ve never (yet) strayed south of Rome, and in those regions, the tomato doesn’t dominate the way it does in the south. My favorite Italian dishes are ones which understand how to create complex flavors with the freshest ingredients and a mixture of herbs. This dish looks like it hits the bullseye! And here in San Diego, we have rosemary growing year round. (Beyond hedonistic!!)

I have 1 thick pork chop in the freezer….I think it’s time to defrost it!

Oh – and thanks for reminding me of vermouth – I had totally forgotten why I had that bottle in the cabinet!

marie December 9, 2007 at 4:40 am

Hi, I totally agree with your comments about Rosemary! I just love to use fresh herbs whenever I cook. Also, I’m a fellow Chi town foodie wanting to say Hi to you!!

Terry B December 9, 2007 at 5:15 am

Toni—Rosemary year ‘round? I’m watching freezing rain fall right now outside my kitchen window. You trying to make me feel bad?

Marie—Welcome to Blue Kitchen! Be careful on the ice out there.

Mimi December 9, 2007 at 2:33 pm

Eat, drink and use rosemary? You bet!

About a week ago, I brought my rosemary plants inside. Just in time for brutal weather, I should add.

I’ll be doing a lot with rosemary this winter.

Terry B December 9, 2007 at 4:25 pm

Mimi—We should discuss our separate views of brutal weather sometime. You’re quite a bit north of Chicago, as I understand. I’m guessing what passes for brutal here is merely annoying to you.

Mary Coleman December 15, 2007 at 2:04 pm

Hey Terry!
After coming home late last night and wondering what to do for dinner, we opted for your pork chops. I have NEVER had a better pork chop. These are so easy and so good. What a nice break from the tomato side of Italian food!
Thanks so much for posting this recipe!

Terry B December 15, 2007 at 4:20 pm

Thanks, Mary! After a quick look at your blog and seeing what a wide-ranging and adventurous palate you have, this is praise indeed.

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