This little piggy took a shortcut

Melissa Clark / New York Times News Service /

Published Jul 23, 2013 at 05:00AM

The first ingredient of a traditional porchetta recipe is a small whole pig. This alone explains why I’ve never tried the dish at home, despite my deep affection for it.

Once you have your pig, you need to split it open and debone it before smearing the flesh with a paste of garlic, rosemary and fennel. That’s the easy part.

Then you return the cleaned innards, roll the thing up and spit-roast it overnight until the skin crackles and gleams.

When I want the flavors of a porchetta, I stuff the classic herb paste into a smaller and more manageable cut.

Thick pork chops work well here. Simply cut a pocket into each chop so that you have somewhere to stuff the paste. The thicker your chop, the easier it is to slice that pocket in the center and not slice through the top or bottom of the meat.

Since porchetta is an Italian dish, there are as many variations in the seasonings as there are Italians doing the seasoning. In Rome, rosemary dominates the blend, while the Umbrians tend to play up crushed wild fennel fronds. Lemon zest may or may not make an appearance.

Porchetta Pork Chops

Makes 2 servings.

2 bone-in pork chops, 11⁄4 to 11⁄2 inches thick

1 tsp coarse kosher salt, plus a pinch

1 lemon

2 garlic cloves, minced

2 TBS chopped rosemary

Lg pinch red pepper flakes

1⁄2 tsp fennel seeds, lightly crushed

2 TBS chopped fennel fronds, more for garnish

2 TBS olive oil

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Pat pork chops dry and, using a very sharp paring knife, cut a large pocket into the fat-covered edge of each chop. Season chops all over with 1 teaspoon salt, including inside pockets.

Finely grate zest from lemon and put in a small bowl. Cut lemon lengthwise in quarters for serving.

Using a mortar and pestle or the flat side of a knife, mash garlic with a pinch of salt until you get a paste. Add to the bowl with the lemon zest and stir in rosemary, red pepper flakes, fennel seeds, 2 tablespoons fennel fronds and 1 tablespoon olive oil.

Divide filling between pork chops, stuffing some inside pockets and rubbing the rest on the outside.

Heat a large ovenproof skillet over high heat and add 1 tablespoon olive oil. Sear pork chops on one side for 5 minutes, or until golden brown. Gently turn over chops and cook for another minute, then transfer skillet to oven. Cook until meat is just done, about 5 to 10 minutes longer (internal temperature should read 135 degrees on a meat thermometer). Transfer pork chops to a plate, tent with foil, and let rest for 10 minutes before serving. Garnish with fennel fronds and lemon wedges.

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