I don’t remember where I first stumbled upon the recipe for Grilled Pork Chops with Italian Relish. It was in a magazine some fifteen or twenty years ago. Like so many the recipes I’ve clipped and filed away over the years, I filed it in the back of my mind as well, knowing that when the time was right, a light would come on and I’d remember having clipped the perfect recipe to prepare.
I do remember the first time I made these pork chops. It was a casual barbecue with friends. My plan was simple. Pick a main dish that was colorful, that could be cooked on the grill, and that went with a nice bottle or two of wine. From there, the rest of the menu would build itself. Grilled Pork Chops with Italian Relish seemed just the ticket.
Our guests for the evening were Tony and Deedee. While the four of us frequently dined out together, (hey, this was Vegas – with some of the finest restaurants in the world to choose from – dining out was almost a way of life in Vegas) this was the first time I cooked for them. Tony was about as Italian-American as they come and I wanted to make something that would remind him of his Brooklyn Italian roots. (Not that I know anything about Brooklyn Italian roots since I’ve never been to Brooklyn nor am I Italian). Before moving to Las Vegas, Tony was one of those devout Catholics who attended Mass daily with his mother, and even considered the priesthood. After relocating to Las Vegas, Tony met and fell in love with his future bride. Deedee grew up in east LA, and had bounced back and forth between her mother in Las Vegas and her dad in LA until finally putting roots in Las Vegas. Deedee didn’t talk much about her family except to say that her mother was fair-skinned and her father was Mexican, thus explaining her beautiful olive complexion and deep green-blue eyes. (I’ve painted this brief picture of our friend for a reason).
While the pork chops came off without a hitch and were absolutely delicious, that night Hubby and I discover that Deedee was Jewish. Imagine our surprise. We had a number of Jewish friends, and for the most part they were not only open about their faith, but at times rather vocal on the subject. As Deedee put it with a smile and a shrug of her shoulders, “My mother is Jewish, therefore I am Jewish.” Oy vey!
Needless to say, grilled pork was about as far from kosher as I could get. Thank God, I had some chicken breasts marinating in Italian Dressing for following evening’s supper. While Hubby, Tony and I enjoyed the Grilled Pork Chops with Italian Relish, Deedee dined on Grilled Chicken with Italian Relish. Yeah, the relish is that versatile. And my sides of Herb Risotto and fire-grilled asparagus went beautifully with both. (Note to self – when cooking for others for the first time, it might not be a bad idea to ask about religious or other dietary restrictions).
Over the years, this dish has become a summertime family favorite. I like to serve it with Herb Risotto and a bright vegetable dish such as Pan Seared Asparagus or better still, Tuscan Roasted Asparagus with Tomatoes and Parmesan.
The biggest challenge to making these sumptuous pork chops is the age-old question: fresh or dried herbs? While fresh is always better, sometimes dried is a necessity. This year, with a sever drought in California, I skipped putting in a garden (heavy sigh). Rational or not, it seemed selfish to grow my own vegetables and use precious water rather than support the local farmers markets who are struggling to scratch out a living with all the water restrictions in place. I don’t know if the drought has played a part in it, but the Basil offered this year doesn’t look as healthy as it should. The leaves are curled inward and there are black spots on the underside. While that’s not always the case, when shopping this week, I didn’t like the looks of most herbs. (Another heavy sigh). So out of necessity, dried herbs it was.
Grilled Pork Chops with Italian Relish
¾ lb Roma Tomatoes, seeded, chopped
¾ Cup Chopped Red Onion
3-4 Cloves of Garlic, chopped (about 1-2 tablespoons)
1 Tablespoon Chopped Fresh Basil or 1 teaspoon dried basil
2 Tablespoon Chopped Fresh Oregano or 1 1/2 teaspoons dried Oregano
1/3 Cup Red Wine Vinegar
Salt & Pepper to taste
4-6 Thick, Center-cut Pork Chops, 1/2 to 3/4-inch thick
Seed and chop tomatoes, place in a medium-size bowl. When chopping the tomatoes, leave some in larger chunks, some in smaller pieces for a less-uniformed appearance.
Chop Red Onions, add to tomatoes. If using fresh herbs (best) chop fresh basil and oregano. Add to tomato mixture. Pour Red Wine Vinegar over tomato mixture, toss to blend. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Let stand for 1-2 hours to allow flavors to mature and fully marry.
Arrange pork chops in a glass baking dish just large enough to hold the chops snugly, set aside.
Pour relish into a strainer over a glass bowl. Let sit for 10 minutes or so to drain on its own. To complete the draining process and get as much liquid as possible for the pork chops, gently press relish to remove any remaining liquid without mashing tomatoes. Spoon or pour liquid over pork.
Let pork chops marinate in liquid for about 40 minutes to an hour, turning occasionally.
While pork is marinating, prepare barbecue grill to about medium-heat. Since the pork is cooked over the heat directly, you don’t want the grill to get so hot that the chops burn or dry out before they are fully cooked.
When the fire is ready, grill pork until cooked through, about 6 to 8 minutes per side.
Transfer pork chops to serving platter. Tent to keep warm and allow to rest for about 5 minutes. When ready to serve, spoon most of the relish over the pork chops, reserving some to pass table side. Serve and enjoy!