Saturday, December 12, 2015

Bacchus, Dionysus, and why Semele was Stupid

The holiday season is in full swing at my house and the wine is flowing! I guess we should thank Bacchus, the Roman God of the Vine! Bacchus is also known as Dionysus, the Greek god of the grape harvest, winemaking/wine, fertility, ritual madness, religious ecstasy, and theatre. He was also the youngest and last god (or demi-god) to be accepted into Mt. Olympus.

Dionysus' mortal mother, Semele, was the daughter of King Cadmus of Thebes. She had an affair with Zeus, the king of all the gods, and became pregnant. When Hera (Zeus' wife) got wind of it, she pretended not to believe Semele. Semele freaked out and demanded that Zeus reveal himself to save her honor. What she didn't know was that mortals could not look upon undisguised gods without dying. (Dumbass!) Upon her death, Zeus rescued the unborn baby and sewed him into his thigh until he was fully grown. (Gross!) No wonder Dionysus needed a drink!

So, in honor of Dionysus and the holiday season, I want to share this delicious and unusual recipe for "Fontina and Prosciutto Stuffed Pork Chops with Fried Polenta Squares and Roasted California Grapes." Although I am still on the fence about the effectiveness of brining, I do recommend it in this recipe because it is the only seasoning of the pork chops. The polenta should be made ahead, even days ahead, making it very convenient for company. Roasting the grapes concentrates their natural sweetness and look like pretty little ornaments on each plate! All in all, this is a wonderful combination of flavors and makes a beautiful and festive presentation!

Fontina and Prosciutto Stuffed Pork Chops with Fried Polenta Squares and Roasted California Grapes

Serves 4

For the Polenta
4 cups water
1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt
1 cup polenta/yellow cornmeal (I recommend Quaker yellow cornmeal because it cooks in 5 minutes!)
2 tablespoons heavy cream
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
All-purpose flour, for dusting the squares before frying
Extra-virgin olive oil
8-inch by 8-inch baking dish or pan

For the Brining
4 bone-in pork loin chops, 1 1/2-inch thick
1 quart water
2 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons Kosher salt
2 fresh thyme sprigs
5 whole cloves
1/8 teaspoon ground allspice

For the Stuffing
4 sliced prosciutto
4 slices fontina (about 3 ounces)

Finishing the Dish
1/2 cup chicken stock
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, chilled
1 pound California red grapes, on the vine and cut into 4 smaller clusters/bunches (I don't use the entire pound of grapes, rather a handful-size cluster for each plate.)
Extra-virgin olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
4 parsley sprigs, for garnish

For the Polenta Squares
Bring the water and salt to a boil in a large saucepan. Gradually whisk in the cornmeal in a slow steady stream. Lower the heat and continue to whisk until the polenta is thick and smooth, about 20 minutes. (If you use Quaker yellow cornmeal, it will only take about 5 minutes.) Remove from the heat and stir in the cream and butter until fully incorporated. Fold in the Parmesan and season well with black pepper. Pour the polenta into a buttered 8 by 8-inch baking dish or pan. Cover and chill a few hours.

When you're about to cook the pork chops, cut the polenta into 6 squares. (You will have 2 leftover.) Dust each square with flour, shaking off any excess. Once the pork chops are browned and placed in the oven, heat a skillet with a generous coating of olive oil. When the oil looks shimmery, fry each polenta square on each side until just beginning to brown. Set aside on a paper towel-lined plate until ready to serve.

For the Brining
Make the brine by combining the water, sugar, salt, thyme sprigs, cloves, and allspice in a re-sealable bag. Add the pork chops, seal up the bag and put in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes or up to 4 hours.

For the Stuffing
Drain the pork chops and pat dry. Using a paring knife, make a horizontal cut into the center of each chop to make a pocket. Wrap each piece of fontina with one slice of prosciutto.

Stuff a wrapped slice into each pocket and secure with a toothpick. (I've made this again and skipped the toothpicks and it was just fine.)

Finishing the Dish
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Set 2 large cast iron skillets (if you don't have cast iron, use what you have) over medium-high heat and add a 2-count of extra-virgin olive oil into each skillet. Add 2 chops to each of the skillets and cook for 4-5 minutes until golden. Turn the chops, push to 1 side and set grape clusters in each pan. Drizzle with a little olive oil and season the grapes with salt and pepper before putting the pans in the oven.

Roast chops for 5-7 minutes until cooked through and cheese has melted. Remove from the oven when done and set chops and grape clusters aside on a plate. Tent with foil to keep warm.

Consolidate juices into 1 pan and set over medium heat. Add the chicken stock to the pan, scraping the bottom to extract all the flavors. Whisk in the butter to thicken sauce. Season with salt and pepper. To serve, set 1 fried polenta square on each plate and top with 1 chop on each plate. Garnish each plate with a grape cluster and drizzle with the pan sauce. Garnish each plate with a sprig of parsley and serve. Enjoy!

Recipe highly adapted from Tyler Florence.

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