If I can cook it, you can cook it And I'll travel the world to bring it back home to you.
Jacques Pépin’s Superb recipe for Spinach and Gruyère Stuffed Pork Chops
If you follow me on Instagram (@montemathews) you know that I have been in Scandinavia all last week. I boarded Viking Star in Germany and sailed to Denmark and Norway. As soon as I can cook them, I’ll be sharing some wonderful discoveries on my Viking Ocean itinerary both on board ship and ashore. And I can’t say enough good things about this entire trip.
While Travel and writing about it is my great pleasure in life, as with all travelers, it’s nice to come home. Especially when Andrew is at the end of that particular rainbow. He’s subsisted on a great deal of Quiche Lorraine in my absence. That, and when I asked him what he wanted for my first dinner home, he said “anything but chicken”. I was happy to oblige and instead went for ‘the other white meat’, an incredibly durable Advertising tagline for Pork that hasn’t been used since 1997. Today’s recipe was a triumph last time I tasted it. And of course it would be. Its author is the incredible Jacques Pepin and it came for his 11th cookbook: “Jacques Pepin: Heart and Soul in the Kitchen” (Houghton Mifflen Harcourt 2015). Even as a long time fan of Jacques Pépin and owner of at least ten cookbooks that the chef has already written, I can say this is one of my all-time favorite cookbooks. The reason is simple and can be found in the title. M. Pepin has gone back to his roots and his memories and infused every page with his philosophy on life and of food. And oh what food! Simple, direct, delicious. Before I get to the recipe, let me tell you a little about the Chef.
Jacques Pepin was born in Bourg-en-Bresse, a town near Lyon, in 1935. His mother, Jeannette, and father, Jean-Victor owned a restauratn called “Le Pelican”. Pepin basically grew up in its kitchen. He went off to Paris where he ‘staged’ at the Plaza Athénée Hotel under famed Chef, Lucien Diat. Diat also came from a cooking family. His brother, Louis, is credited with inventing Vichyssoise. Pepin truly distinguished himself during his compulsory military service, not as a soldier, but as Head Chef for three French Heads of State including Charles DeGaulle himself. In 1959, Pépin left France bound for New York’s Le Pavilion. The restaurant is credited with having brought French food to the United States. It had started life as “Le Restaurant du Pavilion de France” at the 1939 New York World’s Fair. A mercurial Frenchman, Henri Soule, ran it and its kitchen was the domain of Pierre Franey. Pépin and Franey formed a friendship and often partnership that only ended with Franey’s death in 1996.
When Pepin arrived at Le Pavilion, he was astonished to see how poorly paid and poorly treated the staff were. Soulé was famous for crying poverty while simultaneously offering free meals and wines to any number of celebrities. Pépin, like any good Frenchman, joined in a grève (or strike) at which Mafiosi physically threatened him. Escape came via a Le Pavilion patron named Howard Johnson. He hired both Franey and Pépin to enhance the menu at his chain of restaurants. M. Pepin managed to keep his job and get a B.A. Columbia University in 1970. He followed that up with a master’s degree in French literature from Columbia in 1972.
These are the recipes that the chef prepares for his wife of 52 years, Gloria, his daughter Claudine and her husband Rollie, also both chefs, and their daughter, Shorey. These are the dishes, many of which came from his mother, that make it easy to put French food on your family table. The recipes are in the style of “a la Bonne Femme”, the translation of which is ‘in the manner of a good housewife’. But like all great chefs, Pepin can hardly leave well enough along. He experiments, improvises and he encourages his readers to do the same. In this case, I would follow the recipe to a T. After this recipe, you’ll find links to some other of my favorite Pepin’s. Included is a sensational “Poulet a la Crème” which I hope to make when Andrew starts craving chicken again. Here is the recipe:
A simple pork chop takes on great character when stuffed with Spinach and Gruyère Cheese then topped with a tomato and wine sauce.
By: Monte Mathews
For the Stuffing:
1 tablespoon peanut oil
About 9 cups baby spinach
1/2 teaspoon grated nutmeg
2 teaspoons chopped garlic
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 1/2 cups grated gruyère cheese
For the Chops:
4 thick boneless pork loin chops (1 3/4 pounds total, about 1 inch thick)
1 tablespoon peanut oil
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup sliced scallions
1 teaspoon chopped garlic
1 large ripe tomato (12 ounces), cut into 3/4-inch dice (about 2 cups) Note: I used cherry tomatoes cut into halves and quarters.
1/4 cup homemade chicken stock or canned low-sodium chicken broth
1/4 cup dry white wine
1/4 cup diced kalamata olives
3 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro (Optional)
Step 1 First, make the stuffing:
Step 2 Heat the oil in a large skillet over high heat. Add the spinach, nutmeg, garlic, salt and pepper and cook for about 3 minutes.
Step 3 Transfer to a plate and let cool. Mix the grated cheese into the cooled spinach.
Step 4 Place the chops on a work surface and, using a sharp paring knife, split them horizontally in half three quarters of the way through. Stuff with the spinach mixture and press the edges together. (The chops can be stuffed ahead, covered, and refrigerated until cooking time.)
Step 5 At cooking time, preheat the oven to 140 degrees.
Step 6 Heat the peanut oil and butter in a 12-inch skillet. Sprinkle the chops with half the salt and half the pepper, add to the pan, and sauté over high heat for about 3½ minutes. Turn them over, cover, and cook for 3½ minutes on the other side. Transfer to a plate and keep warm in the oven.
Step 7 Finally, make the sauce:
Step 8 Add the scallions and garlic to the drippings in the skillet and cook for 30 seconds. Stir in the tomato, chicken stock, and white wine, bring to a boil, and boil over high heat for about 2 minutes. Add the remaining salt and pepper, stir in the olives, and mix well.