Today’s pizzaiola features tender pork prepared with a fresh marinara sauce, and then topped with melted mozzarella, plenty of garlic, and red onion.
Pizzaiola (of any kind) is an old family favorite in my house. I used to make this for my kids as a fun weekend dinner every once in a while, and it was always an event. On the one hand, the sauce drenched meat and stringy melted mozzarella made it a treat to eat, while also being a simple enough recipe to let them have fun getting their hands dirty helping me in the kitchen.
Why You’ll Love This Recipe
1) Perfect for Busy Weeknights. Combing a simple marinara sauce in a cast iron pan with pork chops and mozzarella, this recipe is a one pan meal that looks and tastes like a real treat – and yet it couldn’t be simpler or more intuitive to put together.
2) Layers of Fun. Simple meals often times sacrifice either on flavor or ‘fun,’ but not this one. I know this might sound silly, but this recipe is just so much fun to prepare and eat. From the melted mozzarella, to the hardy sauce, to the pork chops themselves, this recipe combines layers of flavor, and makes you feel like a true gourmand in the process.
3) Ripe for Experimentation. Whether you want give the sauce a spicy kick with some chili peppers, or try out different cheeses, or a different meat, or really anything you can think of to modify today’s recipe to meet your preference, today’s pizzaiola is intuitive and simple to experiment with.
Ingredients – Tips, Pointers, and Explanations
1) Mozzarella. Fresh vs Packaged. Fresher is always better. True. So, opt for fresh whenever you can. However, if I’m being honest, fresh mozzarella is far from always being a ‘must.’ Recipes that call for fresh mozzarella involve those where the ‘milky’ taste and ‘fluffy’ texture won’t either be overpowered by the other ingredients, or destroyed by a harsh cooking process. However, if the mozzarella is going to be drowned out by a medley of powerful ingredients, or baked down, then you can save yourself a few dollars and buy packaged. After all, there’s really no point in paying for fresh mozzarella when all of the qualities that make ‘fresh’ desirable are being lost. Today’s recipe is one such case.
2) Fresh Oregano vs Dried – and Possible Substitutions. In an unusual twist, dried oregano is generally preferred in the kitchen over its fresh counterpart – although there are exceptions. The one word you’ll likely always come across when reading about fresh oregano is ‘pungent,’ and occasionally ‘intrusive.’ Fresh oregano has a tendency to steal the limelight. For this reason, it’s at home in recipes with ‘powerful’ ingredients, or where other fresh ingredients are present. Things like Greek salads, whole roasted fish, grilled lamb, heavy sauces, or in herbal mixes for use in stuffing scored pork shoulders. In other words, recipes that aren’t ‘gentle’ or light. For virtually all other uses, dried oregano is preferable, since the drying process mellows it dramatically – which is almost the polar opposite of what happens with other dried herbs, where the drying process has a tendency to ‘concentrate’ rather than mellow the herbs’ most prominent qualities.
Substitution: Dried basil or thyme at a 1-to-1 ratio.
3) Capers – What are these things anyway? They are the flower buds of the Finders Rose or ‘Caper Bush.’ Oddly, they area wildly unpalatable if eaten fresh or dried – being mouth-parchingly bitter. However, when pickled, brined, or preserved in salt, the bitterness fades away to a ‘pleasant tanginess,’ a flavor that’s variously described as ‘lemony,’ ‘anchovy-like,’ ‘salty,’ and ‘olive-like,’ or some combination thereof. They are ‘not’ often described as ‘bitter,’ which might lead to the very understsandable conclusion that their flavor doesn’t actually come from the flower-bud itself, but rather from the packaging. Ouch. Thus, capers may in fact merely be the ‘vessel’ for ‘brine flavor.’ Regardless of the truth behind their flavor, these little pickled flowers-that-weren’t are staple of Mediterranean Cuisine, being especially prominent in Italian, Spanish, Greek, Cypriot, and Moroccan cuisine, while also making an appearance in regional Argentine cuisine. Caper leaves, which feature a somewhat more ‘pungent’ or simply more ‘intense’ flavor than olive leaves, are a unique fixture of certain Hellenic recipes.
Pizzaiola – What is it, exactly?
1) What in a word? In Italian, ‘pizzaiolo,’ literally means ‘pizza maker,’ or ‘pizza chef.’ Conversely, ‘pizzaiola’ is simply a ‘fresh tomato sauce,’ typified by those used on pizzas. Thus, one might logically conclude that ‘Pork Pizzaiola’ is ‘Pork Pizza Style.’
2) Is there a ‘Right Way?’ Given the above, pizzaiola doesn’t ‘really’ have a set formula, except that fresh tomato sauce makes an appearance, along with other ingredients that one might consider to be reminiscent of a Roma-style pizza – red sauce, mozzarella, and perhaps a light dusting of herbs.
3) Layers. Simply dropping the pork – or steak, or chicken, or fish – into a red sauce, and then topping it with cheese …that’s more of a ‘pork and cheese stew’ than a pizzaiola. For this reason, I tend to think of the meat being ‘layered’ with the ingredients. A layer of sauce topped by cheese, dusted wither herbs, and then perhaps finished with grating cheese right before serving.
More Italian Favorites from Living the Gourmet
1) Ravioli. My favorite twist on a beloved classic, these homemade ravioli are blissfully simple to prepare, but the real draw here is the delicious mix of asiago, ricotta, mozzarella, and romano, coupled with a fresh red sauce, plenty of garlic, and fresh spinach.
2) Sweet Mediterranean Lasagna. This lasagna is a bit more colorful by design as compared to the traditional layers of noodles, red sauce, and mozzarella, featuring fresh baby spinach, a touch of sweetness from raisins and cinnamon, and ‘Mediterranean’ flavors such as capers, oregano, and lots of fresh garlic.
3) Meatballs with Rasins and Pignoli Nuts. My absolute favorite meatball recipe of all time. Moist, flavorful, and versatile, well able to accompany pasta or to prepare a meatball sandwich, or even to eat on their own.
4) Breadsticks. At the risk of being old fashioned, I’m going to suggest breadsticks to pair with today’s eggplant, and these are much easier to prepare than you might think. Paired with some olive oil for dipping, or even some herbed butter or black coffee, these are super versatile and keep great. As a nice bonus, they never fail to impress the guests.
If You Enjoyed Today’s Recipe…
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