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Since the history of Italian food is so rooted in the regional cultures, it is interesting to take a look at the main regions of the country and what kinds of food products and dishes each one is known for. The most well known regions in Italy that are noted for their culinary distinctions are the following: Abruzzo-Molise, Apulia, Calabria-Lucania, Emilia-Romagna, Liguria, Lombardy, Naples-Campagna, Piedmont, Rome-Lazio, Sardinia, Sicily, Tuscany, Umbria-Marche and Veneto. These areas can be split up roughly into three categories: northern, central and southern Italy.

Northern Italian cuisine is characterized by less use of olive oil, pasta and tomato sauce and more use of butter (or lard ), rice, corn (for polenta), meat and chesses for cream sauces.

Much of what the rest of the world considers Italian food comes from the central regions of Italy. Velvety smooth olive oils, world-famous cheeses, savory cured meats and rich tomato sauces grace the tables of this region. Beef dishes can be found more often here and the hills of Tuscan and Umbria are known for their wild boar. Both coasts share their love of locally caught seafood and the mountainous countryside is known for its hearty fare.

From the pizza of Naples to the countless types of dried and fresh pasta, the food of the south is the heart of Italy. This is the cuisine found in most Italian-American cuisine. Here you will find rich and spicy tomato sauces and the almost exclusive use of olive oil in cooking. In fact some of the best olive oil comes from this region, but very little of it is exported. The south is home to citrus fruits, fields of durum wheat for pasta, olive groves and vineyards. The sea is used to its fullest extent with all manner of seafood included in dishes from tuna to anchovies and clams to sea urchins.

Pigs are grown throughout Italy, and though many become sausage, salami or prosciutto, just as many do not. It is the one meat that is found in all the regions of the country. Historically, while a good portion of the hog was used for cured meats, many other recipes and uses for pork became popular in Italian cuisine. Each region has its own unique way of cooking pork. Here are five pork chop recipes to illustrate the regional variations of this cuisine.

Bolognese Style Pork Chops

6 servings

Ingredients

  • 6 thick (3/4 -1 inch) rib pork chops with bone
  • 6 large slices of prosciutto
  • 6 slices Italian fontina cheese
  • 2 bay leaves
  • A clove of garlic, minced
  • 2 sprigs of fresh rosemary, leaves stripped and minced
  • 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • Salt & freshly ground pepper

Directions

Trim all the gristle and fat from the cutlets, then cut them in half, leaving the halves attached only along the bone, so that the cutlets will open like a book.

Open the meat and fill each with a slice of prosciutto and one of cheese, trimming their edges so nothing sticks out.

In a skillet with a cover large enough for the meat to lie flat, heat the oil with the bay leaves. Place the pork chops in the pan and brown them on both sides, turning them carefully.

Season the meat with the minced herbs, salt and pepper, cover, and cook over a medium heat for about 15 minutes, turning the meat occasionally; should the meat look as if it’s drying out or over browning, reduce the heat.

Tuscan Style Pork Chops

6 servings

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup chopped pancetta (about 3 ounces)
  • 6 – 6 ounce thick-cut bone-in pork chops
  • Salt
  • Ground black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • 1 cup frozen pearl onions, thawed and drained
  • 1 cup roasted and peeled chestnuts (fresh or unsweetened canned or jarred), roughly chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 fresh sage leaves, thinly sliced, or 1/2 teaspoon dried sage, crushed
  • 1 cup reduced-sodium chicken broth
  • 1/2 cup dry Marsala or dry sherry
  • 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 1/2 – 3/4 cup chopped pitted dried plums (prunes)
  • Small fresh sage leaves

Directions

In an extra-large skillet cook pancetta over medium heat until fat is rendered and the pancetta is brown but not too crisp. Using a slotted spoon, transfer pancetta to a paper towel-lined small bowl; set aside.

Sprinkle all sides of the pork chops with salt and pepper. Add pork chops to the hot drippings in the skillet; cook for 4 to 6 minutes or until golden brown, turning once halfway through the cooking time. Using tongs, transfer chops to a plate.

For the sauce: add butter to the skillet; heat over medium heat until no longer foamy. Add onions and chestnuts to the hot butter; cook about 5 minutes or until golden brown, shaking the skillet occasionally. Stir in garlic and thinly sliced or dried sage; cook about 30 seconds more or until fragrant. Add broth, Marsala, vinegar and honey. Bring to boiling.

Cook, uncovered, about 5 minutes or until liquid begins to turn syrupy, using a wooden spoon to scrape up any browned bits from the bottom of the skillet. Stir in dried plums and cooked pancetta; season to taste with pepper.

Return pork chops and any accumulated juices to the skillet; spoon sauce in skillet over chops. Cover skillet; reduce heat to low and simmer gently for 12 to 15 minutes or until pork is cooked through. Serve sauce over pork. If desired, garnish with small sage leaves.

Pork Chops Roman Style

Ingredients

  • 4 bone-in pork chops, 1 inch thick
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons. honey
  • 1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon minced fresh thyme
  • 1/2 cup chicken broth
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter

Directions

Season the pork chops with salt and pepper. In a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat, warm the olive oil. Add the chops and cook, turning once, until golden brown, 3 to 4 minutes per side. Transfer to a plate.

Reduce the heat to medium. Add the honey, vinegar and thyme and cook until the liquid is thickened and reduced by half, about 5 minutes. Stir in the broth and bring to a simmer.

Return the pork chops to the pan, cover and cook for 3 to 4 minutes. Uncover and cook, turning the chops occasionally and basting with the sauce, for about 15 minutes more for medium doneness. Transfer the chops to a platter and cover loosely with aluminum foil.

Increase the heat to medium-high and simmer until the sauce is syrupy, about 3 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the butter until it is incorporated. Season with salt and pepper. Drizzle the sauce over the pork chops. Serves 4.

Neapolitan Pork Chops

Serves 6

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 6 pork rib or loin chops, cut about 3/4 to 1 inch thick
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper
  • 1 pound mushrooms, cleaned and sliced
  • 2 green or red bell peppers, cleaned and chopped
  • 1/2 cup canned chopped Italian tomatoes
  • 3 tablespoons dry red wine
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano

Directions

Heat the olive oil in a large, heavy skillet with a cover. Add garlic and cook until lightly browned. Season chops with salt and pepper.

Place chops in the skillet and brown on both sides. Add mushrooms, bell peppers, tomatoes, oregano and wine.

Cover and cook over low heat about 1 hour or until tender.

Sicilian Style Pork Chops

 

Servings 4

Ingredients

  • 12 ounces Swiss chard, ribs removed
  • 1 teaspoon plus 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1/4 cup golden raisins
  • 2 tablespoons pine nuts (pignoli), toasted and chopped
  • Salt
  • 4 pork loin chops, each 1 1/2 inches thick (about 10 ounces each)
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1 cup chicken broth
  • 1/3 cup dry white wine

Directions

Finely slice Swiss chard. In a 2-quart saucepan, heat Swiss chard and 1 inch water to boiling over high heat, cover and cook 5 minutes. Drain, pressing hard to squeeze out excess liquid.

In the same saucepan, heat 1 teaspoon oil over medium heat. Add garlic and cook 30 seconds. Remove from heat, stir in Swiss chard, raisins, pine nuts and 1/4 teaspoon salt.

Cut a pocket from the side of each chop, inserting knife almost to the bone. Slice parallel to surface, widening pocket as you go. Do not cut through to edge.

Fill pockets with chard stuffing, gently press closed. Pat chops dry with paper towels. Sprinkle with pepper and 1/2 teaspoon salt.

In 12-inch skillet, heat remaining 1 tablespoon oil over medium-high heat.

Add chops to the skillet and cook until browned on both sides. Add broth and wine to the skillet, heat to boiling. Reduce heat to low, cover and simmer 1 hour, or until chops are tender.

Transfer chops to platter, keep warm. Increase heat to high and boil pan juices until reduced to 3/4 cup. Pour over chops and serve.


Pork is the culinary name for meat from the domestic pig and is one of the most commonly consumed meats worldwide, with evidence of pig husbandry dating back to 5000 BC.

Since the animals are now bred to be lean, the meat is higher in protein and about 30 percent lower in calories, saturated fat and cholesterol than the pork produced in the 1970’s.

With so many lean cuts of pork to choose from, many pork cuts are comparable to skinless chicken cuts. A 3-ounce serving of pork tenderloin is as lean as a skinless chicken breast. It contains 120 calories and only 2.98 grams of total fat. Pound for pound, pork is one of the most economical buys in the meat case. Not only will you be getting nutritional value of B vitamins, zinc and iron; but pork’s financial value will leave you a little extra cash in the pocketbook.

Common Cuts of Pork for Grilling

Pork Chops

The meatiest chops are cut from the center of the loin: The two most common types are loin chops, which look like miniature T-bone steaks with a bit of the tenderloin attached and rib chops, without the tenderloin (see Pork Tenderloin). Because they dry out quickly during cooking, it’s especially important not to overcook lean boneless chops. Choose cuts that are at least an inch thick so they stay juicy.

Pork Loin

Buy this large cut (from the back of the pig) without bones, which makes it easier to slice.  Stuff it and cook it as a roast or slice it into 1-inch chops for pan-frying and grilling.

Pork Tenderloin

This lean, very tender cut from the end of the loin is long, narrow and tapering at one end. It is much smaller than a pork loin roast, so it cooks quickly and is a good choice for weeknight dinners. This cut of pork is the most healthy cut of pork. Cut from the back of the pig, it has virtually no fat. This fact also makes it easy to dry out and for that reason technique is important: grill it on hot grates and grill it quickly. Tenderloins also absorb marinades really well. 

Pork Sausage

Made from ground pork, sausages come in a variety of sizes and seasonings. Flavors range from sweet to savory and spicy. Sausages can be used in sauces, stews or as a pizza topping. Grilled sausage makes an excellent sandwich.

Baby-Back Ribs

Small and meaty, these curved slabs are taken from the pig’s rib cage near the backbone. Prized for their juicy meat, they cook quickly. A full rack has at least 8 ribs. For the tenderest meat, select a rack that weighs 2 pounds or less (which should feed 2-3 people).

Spare Ribs

Although not as meaty as baby-back ribs, spare ribs rely on a generous amount of fat for flavor. Large and irregularly shaped, they come from a pig’s underbelly or lower rib cage (also the source of bacon). A full rack has at least 11 ribs and weighs 3 to 4 pounds (which should feed 3 or 4 people).

Ham

Ham is taken from a pig’s leg. Some hams are sold fresh for baking, but most are cured with brine, salt and spices, making them juicier. Some are sold fully cooked and some are smoked, which imparts a more intense flavor. Hams are sold boneless, semi-boneless and with the bone in. Bone-in hams usually yield the best flavor, while boneless are easier to cut. Ham steaks are best for the grill.

 

 

Grilling is ideal for cooking smaller pork cuts, such as chops, steaks, ham slices, tenderloins, ribs, ground pork patties, sausages and kabobs. Because grilling uses high heat and short cooking times, it tends to toughen the meat, so it is best to use the most tender cuts available. Lean pork cuts will benefit from marinating before they are grilled.

Pork steaks and pork chops that are going to be grilled should be a minimum of 3/4 to 1 inch thick because the high heat will cook the meat quickly. If the cuts are thinner than this, it is easy to overcook the meat, causing it to dry out. The meat must be watched carefully while grilling. Coating the pork with a little oil or marinating it before cooking will help keep it moist. It is important that the grill be properly preheated so that it seals the juices into the meat quickly. The temperature at which the pork is cooked and the distance it is placed from the heat source are both important for providing tender, juicy, properly cooked pork.

Using a meat thermometer is the most accurate method for testing doneness. A regular meat thermometer is inserted before placing the meat on the grill and it remains there throughout the cooking time. An instant read thermometer is used to check for the recommended temperature once the meat has been cooked. 

Whether the grill is charcoal or gas, how you use the heat is key. Understanding the two grilling styles, direct and indirect, are essential for creating perfectly grilled meat. There are instances when either direct or indirect methods are appropriate. The direct method cooks foods directly over the heat source. Grill pork chops, ground pork burgers, pork kabobs and anything less than two inches in thickness over direct heat. Indirect heat cooks at a slower rate, as the heat source is off to the side, to prevent burning the outer area of the food while cooking evenly throughout. Grill larger cuts of meat, like pork shoulder and roasts, using indirect heat. (See photo above for direct/indirect heat method.)

When using direct grilling, the meat should be 3 to 6 inches away from the heat source and cooked on medium high heat. It is important that the heat source be accurately preheated to allow for even cooking. Pork is done at 160 degrees F. Cook larger cuts over indirect heat to an internal temperature of 150 degrees F. and allow the meat to rest for 10 minutes. The final internal temperature will continue to rise to 160 degrees F. A hint of pink in the center equates perfectly cooked pork that is not dried out. 

Start with a clean grill. Scrub the grates with a wire brush removing all grease buildup and charred food particles prior to every use. Grease the grates with cooking oil before starting the grill to prevent sticking and burning of items to be grilled. To reduce flare ups, choose lean cuts of meat, such as: pork tenderloin, top loin chop, center loin chop, rib chop, sirloin roast or 96% lean ground pork. Also, trim any visible fat before placing on the grill.

Marinades can come from fruit and vegetable purees. Vinegar mixtures, citrus juice, herbs, spices and olive oil all make great ingredients for marinades. In addition to marinating to maximize the natural flavor of lean meats, such as pork tenderloin and ham, pair pork with fresh fruits and vegetables to brighten and lighten up summertime meals. Pairing meat with citrus fruits or adding sliced apples, strawberries or other fruit  to your grilling skewer will increase the meal’s nutrition value. Grilled fruit, such as peaches, nectarines and plums add great flavor to pork entrees. Adding vegetables to the grill alongside the meat is a healthy alternative to fattening summer sides and it saves the cook time and work.

Grilled Pork Tenderloin

This is a master grilling recipe for pork tenderloin that works perfectly, no matter how you flavor the pork. 

Serves 4-5

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup kosher salt
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 pork tenderloins (about 2 pounds total)
  • 1 recipe Rosemary-Orange Glaze, see recipe below
  • Freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 1 recipe Orange Balsamic Sauce, see recipe below

Brining:

In a medium bowl, mix salt and sugar with 1 quart cool water until dissolved. Trim the tenderloins of excess fat and silverskin and submerge them in the brine; let stand about 45 minutes. Remove the pork from the brine, rinse thoroughly, and pat dry.

Season and grill:

Rub the brined tenderloins all over with the Rosemary-Orange Glaze and then season with the pepper. 

Heat a gas grill, turning all the burners to high until the grill is fully heated, 10 to 15 minutes.

Put the pork on the hot grill grate. Close the lid and grill for 7 minutes.

Turn the pork over, close the lid, and grill for another 6 minutes.

Turn off the heat (keep the lid closed) and continue to cook the pork for another 5 minutes. At this point, an instant-read thermometer inserted into the middle of the thickest end of the tenderloin should read 145° to 150°F. (If not, close the lid and let the pork continue to roast in the residual grill heat.) Remove the pork from the grill and let rest for 5 minutes before carving. Cut across the grain into 1/2-inch slices and serve with the Orange Balsamic Sauce .

To use a charcoal grill:

Prepare a two-zone fire, banking all the coals to one side of the grill. Use a wire brush to clean the grill rack and then brush it lightly with oil; close the lid and wait to let the air inside the grill get hot again. Position the pork directly over the hot coals and cook (covered), turning once, until nicely seared on both sides. Move the tenderloins to the coolest part of the grill (over no coals), close the lid, and cook for 5 minutes more. Grilling time may vary a bit, depending on how hot and consistent your fire is.

Rosemary-Orange Glaze 

Yields enough to glaze two pork tenderloins.

Ingredients:

  • 1/4 cup frozen orange juice concentrate, thawed
  • 1 teaspoon brown sugar
  • 4 teaspoons minced fresh rosemary

In a small saucepan, bring the concentrate, brown sugar and rosemary to a simmer. Simmer until the mixture reduces to about half. Set aside to cool slightly.

Orange Balsamic Sauce

Yields about 1/3 cup.

Ingredients:

  • 1 teaspoon vegetable oil or olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 teaspoon minced fresh rosemary
  • 1/3 cup orange marmalade
  • 4 teaspoons balsamic vinegar

Directions:

Heat the oil in a small saucepan over medium heat. Add the garlic and rosemary and cook until fragrant and sizzling, about 30 seconds. Stir in the marmalade and vinegar. Heat until warm. After slicing the pork, add any juices from the carving board to the sauce and mix well. Pass separately when serving the pork tenderloins.

Pork Chops with Marsala and Porcini Mushrooms

Serves: 4

Ingredients:

  • 1½ cups very hot water
  • 1/2 ounce dried porcini mushrooms
  • 4 pork rib chops, each 8 to 10 ounces and ¾ to 1 inch thick
  • 3 teaspoons minced fresh rosemary, divided
  • Kosher salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 12 ounces fresh cremini mushrooms, sliced
  • 1 cup thinly sliced scallions (white and light green parts only), divided (9 scallions)
  • 1/2 cup good-quality dry marsala
  • 1/2 cup low-sodium chicken broth
  • 1/3 cup half & half

Directions:

Pour the water into a 2-cup glass measuring cup, add the porcinis, and stir to submerge. Cover with a plate or bowl to keep the porcini submerged. Let soak until the mushrooms are soft, 20 to 30 minutes. Drain, reserving 1 cup of the soaking liquid and the porcini separately. If the porcini pieces are large, roughly chop them and set aside.

While the mushrooms are soaking, prepare the pork chops. In a small bowl combine 2 teaspoons of the rosemary, 1 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Brush the pork chops on both sides with the oil and season evenly with the spices.

Prepare the grill for direct cooking over high heat (450° to 550°F).

In a large skillet over medium-high heat, melt the butter. Add the creminis and cook until they release their liquid and become brown, 7 to 8 minutes, stirring frequently. Stir in the drained porcini, 3/4 cup of the scallions and the remaining rosemary. Saute for 2 minutes. Add the marsala and boil until reduced by about half, 1 to 2 minutes. Add the broth and the 1 cup reserved porcini soaking liquid, leaving any sediment behind. Boil until slightly reduced, 3 to 4 minutes. Stir in the half & half and boil until the liquid thickens to your desired sauce consistency, 3 to 5 minutes. Season the sauce with 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper.

Brush the cooking grates clean. Grill the pork chops over direct high heat with the lid closed , 6 to 8 minutes depending on their thickness, turning once. Remove from the grill and let rest for 5 minutes. Spoon the mushroom sauce over the pork chops and top with the remaining 1/4 cup scallions. 

Pork Kabobs

Marinade:

  • 1/3 cup finely chopped fresh Italian parsley 
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons minced red onion
  • 1 tablespoon sherry vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon smoked paprika
  • 2 teaspoons minced garlic
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
  • Kosher salt

2 pork tenderloins, each about 1 pound, trimmed of silver skin and any excess fat, cut into 1¼-inch cubes

2 large bell peppers, 1 red and 1 green, cut into 1¼-inch squares

Directions:

Whisk the marinade ingredients, including a 1/2 teaspoon salt. Put the pork cubes in a large, resealable plastic bag and pour in the marinade. Press the air out of the bag and seal tightly. Turn the bag to distribute the marinade, place in a bowl, and refrigerate for 4 to 8 hours, turning occasionally.

If using bamboo skewers, soak in water for at least 30 minutes.

Prepare the grill for direct cooking over high heat (450° to 550°F).

Remove the pork from the bag and discard the marinade. Thread the pork and bell pepper squares alternately onto skewers.

Brush the cooking grates clean. Grill the skewers over direct high heat, with the lid closed, until the pork is barely pink in the center, 8 to 10 minutes, turning once or twice. Remove from the grill and serve immediately.

Ham Steaks with a Citrus Sauce

Serves: 6

Sauce:

  • 1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/3 cup finely chopped fresh Italian parsley 
  • 1/3 cup finely chopped red onion
  • Finely grated zest of 1 large orange
  • 1/4 cup fresh orange juice
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
  • 1 teaspoon minced garlic
  • 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Marinade:

  • 1 tablespoon orange marmalade
  • 1 tablespoon fresh orange juice
  • 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar

2 bone-in ham steaks, each about 1 pound and ¾ inch thick

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 orange, cut into wedges

Directions:

Prepare the grill for direct cooking over medium-high heat (400° to 500°F).

In a medium, nonreactive bowl combine the sauce ingredients.

In a small saucepan combine the marmalade, orange juice and vinegar. Cook over low heat just until the mixture thins slightly.

Blot the ham steaks dry with paper towels. Brush both sides of each ham steak with the marmalade mixture and season one side evenly with 1/4 teaspoon pepper.

Brush the cooking grates clean. Grill the ham steaks over direct medium-high heat, with the lid closed, until they are grill marked and crispy around the edges, 6 to 8 minutes, turning once. Remove from the grill and cut into individual portions. Serve warm with the sauce and orange wedges.

Sausage Vegetable Grill

4 Servings

Ingredients:

  • 1 pound lean hot or sweet Italian Pork Sausage links, cut into 1/2-inch slices
  • 1 medium zucchini, cut into 1-inch slices
  • 1 medium yellow summer squash, cut into 1-inch slices
  • 1 medium sweet red pepper, sliced
  • 1 medium onion, cut into wedges
  • 1 cup quartered fresh mushrooms
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon dried oregano
  • 1/4 cup chopped Italian parsley 
  • 1 teaspoon garlic salt
  • 1 teaspoon paprika

Directions:

In a large bowl, combine the first six ingredients.

In a small bowl, combine the oil, oregano, parsley, garlic salt and paprika.

Pour over sausage mixture; toss to coat.

Divide mixture between two pieces of heavy-duty foil (each about 14 in. x 12 in.). Fold foil around sausage mixture and seal tightly.

Grill both packages, covered, over medium heat for 25-30 minutes or until the sausage is cooked through.

Open foil carefully to allow steam to escape.

 


Can pork be a healthy choice?

Pork has a poor reputation as a healthy food for some very good reasons. The only exposure many people get is in salt filled slices of ham or fattening strips of greasy bacon. When people are asked to rank meats from “most healthy” to “least healthy” pork routinely ranks at the bottom of the list. How things have changed. The pork that’s available today is quite a bit different from what was available 30, 20, even just 10 years ago.

In 2006 several different cuts of pork were analyzed by the Agricultural Research Service for the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) nutrient data set. When the results were compared to tests conducted a decade before, researchers found all but one were leaner than cuts previously measured. Six common cuts of pork saw their fat levels fall by 16% and their saturated fat levels by an  27%, all because of selective breeding programs farmers took to provide the buying public with leaner cuts of meat. In fact, over the last 20 years the fat levels in pork haven fallen by an unbelievable 31%.

It’s especially surprising when you compare pork tenderloin to skinless chicken breast, one of the ideal low fat meats. A three ounce serving of lean pork tenderloin has 102 calories, 2.9 grams of fat and 17.9 grams of protein. A three ounce serving of roasted, skinless chicken breast has 141 calories, 3 grams of fat and 26.4 grams of protein. The pork has 25% fewer calories and it’s lower in total fat! An added bonus is that pork has no artery-clogging trans fat. Who could have predicted a day when some pork cuts would be a healthier option than chicken?

The key of course is choosing the right cut. You should avoid spare ribs, ground pork, sausage and bacon (although, there are healthier alternatives for sausage and bacon these days). They have 20 to 38 grams of fat per 3 ounce serving. Cuts like tenderloin, loin chop, sirloin chop or lean ham have only 2 to 9 grams of fat per 3 ounce serving. A good rule to follow is that the leanest cuts tend to come from the loin. It’s true for beef, bison, lamb and pork. So when you shop, the words you’re looking for are “loin” or “round” for the lowest fat options.

Antibiotic – free pork is available in supermarkets and other venues.  Be sure to check the packaging for this label “No antibiotics (with the USDA Processed Verified Label)”. See Related Articles below for more information.

Which cuts of pork are leanest?                                                                                                                                                         

  • Pork tenderloin
  • Pork chops and pork steaks
  • Pork roasts
  • Pork leg (or ham)
  • Pork cutlets/scaloppine
To help you the next time you’re buying pork, use the following chart. It shows the major cuts of meat along with the fat, calories and protein per 3 oz. serving. Cuts in GREEN are the healthiest options, YELLOW indicates caution while those in RED should be avoided or saved for a special occasion.

There is a downside to the new leaner pork. In the old days, a piece of pork had so much fat that even when it was cooked longer than it should, it remained tender and moist. The leaner pork is easy to overcook and can end up tough or dry. You can avoid that by using a thermometer and cook it to 160 degrees Fahrenheit, but no higher. The meat will be slightly pink on the outside and remain tender inside.
If you’re cooking a larger cut of meat like a roast, only cook it to 150 degrees Fahrenheit. Then take the pork out of the heat, cover it with a lid or aluminum foil and let it sit about 10 minutes before you cut it up. During those few minutes the temperature inside the roast will keep rising to 160 degrees and the juices will spread out evenly, so it’ll be more moist.

Pork is a good alternative to chicken and can be used as a substitute in many poultry recipes. A serving of pork without fat contains under 200 calories and provides nearly half of the recommended daily allowance for protein. By preparing pork chops in a healthy way, you can create a meal that tastes good and that fits with your healthy eating goals.

Step 1 : Trim the pork of visible fat. This will reduce both calories and fat grams in your pork chops, automatically making them healthier. It also controls the amount of cholesterol present in the pork chops by getting rid of the part of the meat that contributes to unhealthy cholesterol intake.

Step 2: Season your pork chops with herbs. Using herbs in place of salt or butter and cream sauces creates flavor in your dish, but helps you control your sodium, fat and calorie intake. Many herbs enhance the flavor of pork chops and helps keep them moist and juicy. Try rosemary, garlic, or poultry seasoning.

Step 3: Use healthy cooking methods. Rather than frying your pork chops, try grilling, roasting or braising them. These techniques cut the amount of fat needed to prepare the chops while still preserving flavor. Pork chops can also be baked, however, use a meat thermometer because an overcooked pork chop is dry and lacks flavor. Using non-stick cookware is another good way to reduce the amount of fat needed to cook pork chops and will create a healthier dish.

Step 4: Pair pork chops with fruits and vegetables. Pork chops are enhanced by fruits, such as, raspberries, cherries and apricots, which add a little sweetness to the flavor of the meat. Onions, sauerkraut and potatoes also go well with pork chops and can bring out the taste of the pork.

Step 5: Choose the right side dishes. All your good intentions “go out the window” if you serve your healthy pork chops alongside foods that aren’t healthy. Pair your pork chops with brown rice, steamed or roasted vegetables or a salad to keep the meal healthy while still making the pork chops center stage.

Step 6: Keep your portions in check. A serving of boneless pork is 3 oz., so be sure you don’t serve yourself up a huge pork chop that ends up being several servings, derailing your healthy intentions.

Grilled Pork Chops with Sweet Pepper and Onions

  Serves 4                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                   


For the pepper side dish:

  • 1 red bell pepper
  • 1 yellow bell pepper
  • 1 orange bell pepper
  • 1 garlic clove, thinly sliced
  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh oregano
  • 1 tablespoon minced basil
  • 1 large sweet onion, cut into 3 thick slices
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil, plus oil for brushing on the onions
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper or crushed red pepper flakes

For the chops:

  • 4 pork chops, bone-in
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon crushed fennel seeds
  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh thyme
  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh rosemary
  • 1 lemon, cut into wedges

Directions:

Make the peppers and onions:

Heat a grill to a high flame.
Grill the peppers until the skin is blackened all over and the flesh is soft, about 15 to 30 minutes, turning every few minutes with tongs to cook evenly. The peppers should be nearly collapsing when done. Remove to a bowl and cover tightly with aluminum foil. Set aside for 30 minutes; the steam that will be created in the covered bowl will help loosen the skin from the flesh of the peppers.

Brush the onion slices with olive oil.  Grill a couple of minutes until char marks show. Flip with a grill turner (so the onion rings don’t fall apart). Cook the other side until marks show. Again, this takes only a couple of minutes. Cut the onions into long strips.

Uncover the bowl with the peppers and slip the skin off the peppers with your fingers; don’t be tempted to run the peppers under cool water to remove bits of clinging skin because you would be rinsing away the smoky flavor.
Cut the peppers in half, scoop out the seeds, stem, and any membrane, and cut into long, thin strips. Toss the pepper and onion strips with the garlic, oregano, basil, olive oil, salt, and pepper in a clean bowl. Set aside. 

Make the chops:

Rub the chops with the olive oil, salt, fennel, thyme, and rosemary, coating well. Set aside 30 minutes at room temperature (or up to 2 hours in the refrigerator.)
Grill the chops until browned on one side, about 5 minutes.
Turn and grill until browned on the other side and cooked all the way through, about 5 more minutes.
The total cooking time will depend on the thickness of the chops, the strength of the flame, and how far the chops are from the flame.
Distribute the pepper and onions among 4 plates and place 1 chop on top. Serve with lemon wedges. 

Smashed New Potatoes with Garlic and Chives

Serves 4-6

Ingredients:

  • 2 pounds new potatoes or Yukon Golds
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter or Smart Balance or olive oil
  • Salt
  • 1 minced garlic clove
  • 2 tablespoons minced chives or green onion greens

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Put the whole potatoes in a medium oven-proof baking dish with a cover and add the 1 tablespoon of the butter, cut into pieces. Cover and bake in the oven for 20 minutes.

Take the dish out of the oven and mix the potatoes so they’re coated with butter. Sprinkle the potatoes with garlic and salt. Return to the oven, cover, and cook for another 45 minutes to an hour, depending on how large the potatoes are.

When the potatoes are soft, remove the dish from the oven and, using a potato masher, crush each potato. Don’t pound them, just crush them.  Add salt to taste. Sprinkle chives on the potatoes to serve.

Pork Chops Shepherd Style

6 servings

Ingredients:                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                   

  • 6 bone-in pork loin chops, about 1-inch thick, 6 to 8 ounces each
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1/2  cup all-purpose flour, for dredging
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 4 medium red onions, halved, sliced ½ inch thick (about 4 cups)
  • 3 large garlic cloves, sliced
  • 6 ounces provolone in one piece, preferably imported from Italy
  • 1 cup white wine

Directions:

Trim excess fat from the pork chops, leaving only a thin layer on the edges. Season both sides of the chops with 1 teaspoon of salt. Spread the flour on a plate, and dredge the chops, lightly coating both sides with flour.

Meanwhile, pour the olive oil in a large oven proof skillet, and set it over medium heat. Shake excess flour from the chops, and lay them all in the skillet in one layer (depending on the size of your pan, you may have to squeeze them in). Gently brown the pork on the first side, about 4 minutes; turn the chops over, and brown the second side, another 4 minutes. Remove the chops to a plate and keep warm.

Scatter the onions and garlic in the skillet, stir them around the pan, season with the remaining salt, and cover. Cook the onions slowly, stirring occasionally, and scraping the pan bottom to mix the browned bits with the onion juices.

Set a rack in the middle of the oven and heat it to 400 degrees F.  Slice the provolone in 6 or more thin slices about the size of the pork chops.

After the onions have cooked for 15 minutes or so, and are quite tender and colored with the pan scrapings, uncover, and push them all to one side of the skillet. Lay the pork chops back in, one at a time, spooning a layer of soft onions on the top of each chop. When they’re all in the pan, lay the provolone slices over the onions.

Raise the heat, and when the meat is sizzling again, pour the wine into the skillet (in the spaces between the chops, not over them). Swirl the pan so the wine flows all through it, and bring to a boil, then carefully move the skillet from the stove to the oven.

Bake the chops for 10 minutes or so, until the cheese topping is bubbly. Carefully remove the skillet from the oven, and let chops rest in it for a few minutes. To serve, lift out each chop with a spatula, keeping the cheese topping intact, set it on a dinner plate, and spoon some of the skillet juices and onions around it.

Sauteed Spinach with Cannellini Beans and Garlic

Ingredients:

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 large cloves of garlic, peeled and thinly sliced
  • 1 (15.5 ounce) can of cannellini beans, rinsed and drained
  • 2 large bunches of fresh spinach, ends trimmed, washed and drained
  • About 1 tablespoon finely grated lemon zest (about 1/2 lemon)
  • Coarse sea salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper

Directions:

Heat olive oil in a saute pan over medium heat until warm. Add the garlic and cook just until fragrant about one minute. Stir often, being careful not to let it brown.
Stir the beans into the garlic and oil and cook until heated through – about 1 minute. Be careful not to cook too long or the beans will turn mushy.
Add the spinach and sea salt – about 1/2 teaspoon. Cook the spinach, turning with tongs,  until wilted – about 2 or 3 minutes.  After wilted, remove from the heat.
Add in the lemon zest, additional salt to taste and freshly ground black pepper.

Pork Chops with Creamy Marsala Sauce                                                                                                                                   

Makes 4 servings

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup Marsala (see Note), divided
  • 2 teaspoons cornstarch
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 4 thin boneless pork loin chops (about 1 pound), trimmed
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
  • 2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 4 thin slices prosciutto (2 ounces), chopped
  • 1 small onion, halved and thinly sliced
  • 3 teaspoons chopped fresh oregano or 1 teaspoon dried
  • 3 teaspoons chopped fresh chives, divided
  • 1 cup low-fat milk

Directions:

Mix 2 tablespoons Marsala and cornstarch in a small bowl; set aside.

Place flour in a shallow dish. Sprinkle pork chops with salt and pepper, then dredge in the flour.

Heat oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Reduce heat to medium and add the pork chops. Cook until well browned on both sides, about 2 minutes per side. Transfer to a plate.

Add prosciutto to the pan and cook, stirring constantly, until browned, about 1 minute. Add onion and cook, stirring often, until it starts to soften and brown, 2 to 3 minutes. Add the remaining 6 tablespoons Marsala, oregano and 1 1/2 teaspoons chives and bring to a boil, scraping up any browned bits. Add milk and the reserved cornstarch mixture to the pan; adjust the heat to maintain a simmer. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the sauce has thickened and reduced slightly, 4 to 6 minutes.

Return the pork chops and any accumulated juice to the pan and simmer, turning to coat, until heated through, 1 to 2 minutes. Serve the chops topped with the sauce and garnished with the remaining 1 1/2 teaspoons chives.

Note: Marsala, a fortified wine from Sicily, is a flavorful addition to many sauces. Don’t use the “cooking Marsala” sold in many supermarkets—it can be surprisingly high in sodium. Instead, purchase Marsala that’s sold with other fortified wines in your wine or liquor store. An opened bottle can be stored in a cool, dry place for months.

Side Dishes:

Whole Grain Noodles  

Cook whole grain yolk free egg noodles according to package instructions, serve with the pork chops and drizzle some of the Creamy Marsala sauce over them.

Whole Grain Yolk Free Egg Noodles

Sautéed Butter-Thyme Mushrooms

Serves 4
Ingredients:

  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped shallots
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 (8-ounce) packages pre-sliced cremini mushrooms
  • 1/3 cup beef broth
  • 4 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme

Directions:

Melt butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add shallots; cook 1 minute or until tender. Add salt and mushrooms to pan; cook until mushrooms are brown and liquid evaporates. Add broth to pan; cook for 2 minutes or until liquid almost evaporates. Stir in thyme, and cook for 30 seconds.

Easy Stuffed Pork Chops                                                                                                                                                      

4 Servings

Ingredients:

  • 4 pork rib or loin chops, cut 1-inch thick
  • 4 slices prosciutto
  • 4 slices Mozzarella Cheese
  • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper
  • 1/4 cup egg substitute beaten with 1 tablespoon milk
  • 1 1/2 cups Italian Panko Crumbs
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 cups chopped Pomi tomatoes
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil

Directions:

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Spray a baking sheet with cooking spray.
Cut a slit in the side of each chop, forming a pocket. Fold and stuff prosciutto and cheese into pockets; press lightly to close pocket.

Combine flour, salt and pepper in a shallow bowl. Beat egg substitute and milk another in shallow bowl. Place breadcrumbs in a third shallow bowl. One at a time, lightly coat chops in flour mixture; then dip in egg mixture and dredge both sides in Panko crumbs, patting to coat.

Heat butter and oil in large skillet over medium heat until hot. Add chops; cook 4 to 5 minutes per side or until golden brown. Transfer to baking sheet.
Bake in preheated 375° oven 10 minutes or until desired doneness.

Meanwhile, add tomatoes to same skillet; cook 3 minutes or until softened, stirring occasionally. Stir in basil; season with salt and pepper. Transfer chops to serving plates and  top with tomato mixture.

Skillet Cauliflower

Serves: 6 to 8

Ingredients:

  • 1 large whole cauliflower
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 4 garlic cloves, peeled and sliced
  • 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

Directions:

Tear or cut off the outer leaves attached to the base of the cauliflower, then cut out the bottom core. Separate the head into big florets. Cut the big florets into 1-inch chunks or thick slices, so you have 6 cups or more of roughly equal-sized cauliflower pieces.

Pour the olive oil into a large skillet and set over medium-low heat. Scatter the garlic slices and red pepper on the oil, and pile in all the cauliflower. Sprinkle with salt. Sweat the cauliflower, about 4 minutes. Toss and cook for another 3 minutes. The edges of the cauliflower pieces should have started to brown. Cover the pan, lower the heat and let the cauliflower continue to caramelize slowly, tossing the pieces every few minutes for 12-15 minutes.

Pork Chops Braised in White Wine

Ingredients:

  • 1 tablespoon fresh sage leaves, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon fresh rosemary leaves, chopped
  • 1 clove of garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • fresh ground pepper
  • 4 center-cut loin pork chops
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 1/2 cups dry white wine, divided

Directions:

In a small bowl, combine sage, rosemary, garlic, salt and a few grinds of black pepper. Mix into a paste.

Press small amounts of mixture firmly onto both sides of each pork chop and let sit for at least five minutes.

In a heavy large skillet with a cover melt the butter with the olive oil over moderate heat. Place the chops in the hot oil and butter and brown for 2 to 3 minutes on each side. Use tongs to turn the meat. You don’t want to pierce the meat with a fork. You will loose the natural juices.

Add 1 cup of wine to the skillet. Cover and reduce the heat to a simmer. Cook the chops 30 to 35 minutes, turning occasionally. When chops are tender, remove from pan to a serving platter.

Add the remaining wine to the skillet and deglaze the pan. Pour sauce over chops and serve.

Sauteed Savoy Cabbage

Serves 4

Ingredients:

  • 1 savoy cabbage (2 pounds), halved, cored, and cut crosswise into 1-inch strips, thick ribs removed
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter or Smart Balance Blend, cut into small pieces
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper

Directions:

Place cabbage in a large skillet with 1 cup water (skillet will be very full). Bring to a boil, and reduce heat to medium-low. Cover skillet; simmer until cabbage is very tender, tossing occasionally, 12 to 15 minutes. Pour out any water remaining in skillet. Add butter and garlic; season with salt and pepper. Cook a minute or two and toss gently to combine.

Beet and Tomato Salad

This is an unusual salad but very good. Slices of roasted beets and fresh beefsteak tomatoes are dressed with shallot vinaigrette and fresh oregano to create a colorful and flavorful side dish.
Serves 4

Ingredients:

  • 2 medium beets (about 1 pound total), scrubbed
  • 2 teaspoons plus 3 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 small shallot, minced
  • 2 teaspoons red-wine vinegar
  • Coarse salt and ground pepper
  • 3 medium beefsteak tomatoes, sliced 1/4-inch thick
  • 1 tablespoon fresh oregano leaves

Directions:

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Place beets on a large piece of foil on a baking sheet. Top with 2 teaspoons oil and season with salt and pepper. Fold foil around beets and crimp ends to form a packet. Roast beets on sheet until tender when pierced with a knife, 45 minutes to 1 hour. Remove beets from foil and let cool, then peel and cut into 1/4-inch-thick slices.  This can be done early in the day and set aside the beets at room temperature.

Tip:  I use surgical gloves to remove the skin from the beets, so my fingers do not turn purple.

In a small bowl, whisk together remaining 3 teaspoons oil, shallot, and vinegar; season with salt and pepper. On a large platter, arrange beets and tomatoes in an alternating pattern, and season with salt and pepper. Drizzle with dressing and sprinkle with fresh oregano leaves.



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