If there was ever a dish that was personal, this is it. I’ve talked about my grandmothers and their influence on my cooking. In July of 2012, I lost my paternal grandmother. She joined my grandfather who left us back in 2006. When she died, I was in the middle of studying for my licensing exams for History and English teaching which were scheduled 10 days apart from each other. It was a hard time to say the least.
As a memorial to her or a way to honor her, I decided to spend the next week cooking her dishes or eating out at her favorite places. As my week wound down, I wanted to make something new that was still authentic her, but not one of the canonical dishes of hers I already make. I contemplated for a long time and a vague memory of a taste when I was really young came back. I recalled pork chops, potatoes, tomatoes, and green beans. I know her favorite herb to use, so I grabbed the oregano. I was truly winging this dish from some fragmented memory of childhood. My grandmother had standard dishes when the family got together on the weekends, but when I was younger I was there when no one else was around so I had more of her daily cooking, the way my dad and uncle did growing up.
Without knowing what I was doing or even what I was making, I went to work in the kitchen. I tasted tested this dish every few hours the first time I made it and it was tasting familiar but something was lacking. By the time I was ready to serve, I was satisfied but not overly pleased. I still knew something was off. I kept sampling the broth and while it had flavor, it was soft or dull.
I wandered around my kitchen looking for something, anything to jump out at me. I looked over all the ingredients I had used. Nothing was coming to me. Continued looking around and then I saw it. I saw what this dish lacked or needed. It sat there, quiet, golden, ready to impart its rich and silkiness to the dish. Butter. The key ingredient was butter. I added one tablespoon at a time and by the time I had incorporated four, it was perfect.
Due to a faulty memory, I still question how authentic to her this dish really is, but it tastes familiar, it has ingredients I recall. So whether it is truly hers or not, I know she would be proud of it. I can hear her command “Mangia!”
4 thick-cut, bone-in pork chops
1-1½ lbs baby red potatoes
2 celery ribs; chopped
1 medium onion; chopped
1 can diced tomatoes
½ can of water (from tomato can)
¾ tbsp oregano
2 bay leaves
2 cloves garlic; grated/minced
Pinch of red pepper flakes
4 tbsp butter
2 cans French-style cut green beans; drained
Salt/Pepper to taste
In a slow cooker, add potatoes, 2 tbsp butter, celery, onions, tomatoes, water, bay leaves, oregano, garlic, and red pepper flakes. Mix well.
In a hot pan with olive oil, quickly sear pork chops on each side seasoned with salt and pepper.
Add the seared pork to the top of the vegetables in the slow cooker. Place lid and cook on low for 5-6 hours. 15 minutes before serving, add both cans of green beans and remaining 2 tbsp butter. Serve topped with parmesan cheese. Mangia!