With just a few days before the official start of Autumn, the temps were still ranging in the high-80s but I was in a Fall cooking frame of mind. Flipping through our latest edition of Fine Cooking Magazine, I came across Pork Chops with Thyme-Scented Apples over Cheddar Polenta. Yeah, that sounded like a good place to start…
But first a little background on the versatile polenta. It is perfect for both vegetarians and vegans because it is made from just cornmeal and water (or in the case of this recipe, milk and cheese.) Polenta is part of the staple diet of Italy; originally most common in the north of Italy, today it is a popular dish which is enjoyed in many other parts of the world. It was traditionally thought of as a peasant dish because it’s cheap and easy to prepare, yet filling and wholesome. This made it a useful dish for people who were working on the land who required food that was high in energy.
Don’t get confused in thinking that polenta and grits are one and the same, because the two are different — even if that difference is slight. In most cases you could use the same cornmeal to make a polenta dish as you would a grits dish, but the type of corn traditionally used to make each food is different.
Polenta is made from a corn variety that grows in Italy known as flint corn. It holds its shape better than the Southern US corn used for grits, which is called dent corn. This means that grits often come out on the mushier side while polenta is generally a little coarser. In a pinch, sure, use that medium or coarse-ground cornmeal for polenta. But when possible, try to seek out the cornmeal that’s labeled “polenta,” as this is most likely to be the real stuff.
Back to the recipe. Russ has always been an avid fan of polenta, but I must admit until recently, I wasn’t too keen on it (and still don’t like grits.) Having purchased a wonderful Bellavitano Merlot Parm-Cheddar with a Merlot rub wash while on a recent trip to Culpeper, VA, I decided to incorporate it into the polenta, resulting in a velvety finish, or as Russ put it “An A++.” Thanks for the vote of confidence, Babe.
Like a well-conducted symphony, the pork and apple juices mingle beautifully and make a lovely sauce for the chops and cheesy polenta. For a pop of color to the dinner plate, I added some steamed green string beans coated with a light splash of Galega EVOO and a Sicilian Lemon White Balsamic Vinegar, also both purchased in Culpeper.
If you don’t mind the extra calories—although, who does?—for a creamier finish replace 1 cup of whole milk with heavy cream. B
- 3 cups whole milk
- Kosher salt
- 1 cup polenta (cornmeal)
- 3 oz. sharp Cheddar, coarsely grated (about 1 cup)
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 2 Tbs. unsalted butter
- 4 1-inch-thick boneless center-cut pork chops (about 1-1/2 lb.)
- 1 cup apple cider
- 2 tart apples, cored and sliced into 16 wedges each (we used Honey Crisps)
- 1 tsp. chopped fresh thyme leaves
- Light brown sugar
The dry polenta gets whisked into the simmering milk.
The polenta thickens even after water is added.
Approximately 3 ounces of a good cheddar is coarsely grated.
Remove polenta from heat and fold in the grated cheese and some salt and pepper.
- In a 3-quart saucepan, bring the milk and a large pinch of salt to a simmer over medium heat. Slowly whisk in the polenta, reduce the heat to medium low, and cook, stirring often, for about 5 minutes.
- Stir in 1 cup water and cook, stirring occasionally, until the polenta is thick and creamy, 10 to 12 minutes. Remove from the heat, stir in the cheese, and season to taste with salt and pepper.
- Meanwhile, melt the butter in a 12-inch skillet over medium-high heat. Season the pork with salt and cook, flipping once, until an instant-read thermometer inserted in a chop registers 140°F, about 8 minutes total. Transfer to a plate and keep warm.
- Add the apple cider, apples, and thyme to the skillet and cook, stirring occasionally, until the apples begin to soften, about 8 minutes. Add brown sugar to taste. Serve the apples and sauce over the pork chops and polenta.
The chops are turned once after 4 minutes to brown for another 4 minutes on the other side.
The apple slices, cider and thyme get happy together in the skillet for about 8-10 minutes. Add about 1 teaspoon of brown sugar at the very end.
Dig in and enjoy!
Recipe by Erica Clark from Fine Cooking