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May 22, 2008

Winging It

Dominic Armato
Last night I was craving something new, so I went cruising the net in search of a recipe for tonight's dinner. But it was one of those nights when nothing was grabbing me. So when this morning rolled around and I still had no plan, I decided it was a good day to wing it.

It's one of my favorite things to do, actually. Walk into the store, see what looks good, and try to think up something new on the spot -- the only requirement being that it has to be something I've never seen before, even if it's just a subtle twist on an old favorite. It's a great way to break out of a rut and exercise your creativity. You have to be willing to fall on your face sometimes, but that happens less frequently the more comfortable you get, and every once in a while you strike gold that you never would have found any other way.

Today, the store had some really nice cherries out for tasting, so I decided to start there. I thought chicken, pork and shellfish would go well with cherries, but we've been eating a lot of chicken and my ladylove hasn't been feeling the shellfish lately, so I grabbed some beautiful boneless pork chops out of the meat case. Cherries kind of walk that sweet/sour line, and I was in the mood for something sweet-sour anyway, so I figured a cherry vinaigrette would be a nice topping for pork. But those are some bright flavors, so I needed something to ground it and suck up the liquid. A root vegetable puree, maybe? Beets would just be doubling up on sweet. Carrots are close, but a little too aggressive. Parsnips, on the other hand -- fairly subtle, nice and peppery -- perfect. The parsnips need a little something... ginger complements both root vegetables and fruit. And it needs something green and fragrant. Mint should do nicely. I also thought a little cinnamon would work well, but after accidentally grabbing the wrong jar off the shelf, it occurred to me that the five spice would probably be even better. And it was.

Anyway, this was definitely one of the successes.

Dominic Armato

1/2 Lb. parsnips
1 thumb ginger
2 Tbsp. cold butter
2 Tbsp. whole milk
1/2 tsp. five spice powder
2 boneless thick-cut pork chops
3 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil, divided
1 small shallot
3 Tbsp. sherry vinegar, divided
2 Tbsp. water
1/2 C. stemmed, pitted, chopped cherries
2 Tbsp. fresh mint chiffonade, divided

Five Spice Scented Pork Chops with Ginger Parsnips and
Cherry Vinaigrette
Serves 2

The parsnips have to cook for a while, and you can get all of your other prep done while they're boiling, so start with them. Peel them, slice them into 1/4" rounds and put them in a saucepan with cold water to cover. Scrub the thumb of ginger clean (no need to peel it), slice it in half lengthwise and toss it in the saucepan with the parsnips. Salt the water, bring it to a boil, and continue boiling the parsnips until they're tender, about 35-45 minutes. Once they reach this point, drain the water from the saucepan, throw out the ginger and mash the parsnips with a fork over low heat. Cut the butter into small cubes and mash them into the parsnips until thoroughly combined, then whisk in the milk until you get a nice, creamy consistency. Salt and pepper them to taste, then either remove the parsnips from the heat, or leave them on very, very low and watch them carefully to make sure they don't scorch. You just want to keep them warm until the chops are ready. If you leave them on the heat and they get a little dry, you can revive them by adding a touch more milk right before serving.

While the parsnips are boiling is a good time to get your other prep done. Pit and chop your cherries, mince the shallot and wash and dry the mint (but don't chop it yet). Dry the pork chops as much as possible using paper towels, then season with salt and pepper and rub them with the five spice powder. Just a light sprinkling on each side will do. You want it to be a subtle flavor, not overpowering.

When the parsnips are tender and you're almost ready to drain them, that's a good time to start cooking the pork. Add one tablespoon of the olive oil to a cold skillet, swirl it around and then add the pork chops. Put the skillet over medium heat and cook the chops, undisturbed, until they've developed a nice color and they appear to be cooked about a third of the way through, about 5-7 minutes. Flip them over, cover the skillet, and continue cooking until the chops read 140° in the center with an instant read thermometer, about another 5-7 minutes. Don't go by the times, though -- go by temperature. When the chops are done, remove them from the pan and set them on a plate covered with tented foil to keep them warm.

While the chops are resting, make the vinaigrette. As soon as you've removed the chops from the pan, toss in the minced shallot and sauté it for about a minute until it starts to turn translucent. In a small bowl, combine the water and two tablespoons of the sherry vinegar, then pour them into the pan, scraping up all of the good crusty stuff the pork chops left behind. Continue cooking the mixture over medium heat until the vinegar and water mixture reduces down by about half, then add the remaining two tablespoons of the olive oil and the cherries, and continue cooking for just a minute or two so the cherries warm up and soften just a touch. Remove the pan from the heat and whisk in the remaining tablespoon of the sherry vinegar along with any juices the chops have released. Taste the vinaigrette, making any adjustments and adding a little salt if necessary. Chop up the fresh mint, mix one tablespoon of it into the vinaigrette, and get the dish plated.

To plate, divide the parsnip puree between two plates, and top the puree with the chops. Spoon the vinaigrette and cherries on and around the chops, sprinkle with a bit more fresh mint, and get it on the table.


This looks like a gorgeous recipe. I love fresh cherries and have a bunch of them in the fridge right now. I'll prepare this later today. Thanks for this site. You really seem to know what you're doing.

Thanks, Chuck :-)

Let me know how it turns out! Cooking good food is one thing, but writing a good recipe so that somebody else can replicate what you did is another thing entirely. I always wonder how they survive the translation, and I'd love to know what does and doesn't work for you.

Love cherries and parsnips so I think I will make this. Only thing is I'm in a non-carnivore phase. What do you think about the cherry vinaigrette over grilled polenta and the ginger parsnips on the side?
I like how you went through your thought process in the store.

Sorry, Bill... lost your comment in the torrent of Top Chef stuff :-)

Ack... you hit two of my weak points -- substitutions and vegetarian entrees :-) I really built the whole flavor profile around pork, so I'm trying to think of something else that could be dropped in without a major reworking of the whole thing and I'm having a hard time. Polenta on top of a parsnip puree seems like overkill to me. They're too similar (I mean, they're not THAT similar, it's just that I feel like they have a similar feel and inhabit the same space on your palate). And I'm having a hard time putting together cherries and cornmeal in my head.

What about just pushing the parsnips front and center? Dust them with a little five spice, toss them with oil and minced ginger and roast them whole, then dress them with the vinaigrette. Maybe with a little couscous as a base? I'd probably use the five spice on the couscous if I did that. It'll lose something without the pork and drippings, but I imagine it'll still be rather tasty.

Interesting ... I tried this tonight, since I had some pork chops in the fridge, and cherries were on sale. Yummy, but I think the parsnip flavor overshadowed everything else. I got some hints of cherry and mint, but the pork flavor got a bit lost with everything else going on. Of course the issue could be that I had thinner chops, so less chop-to-parsnip ratio in the mouth. But still was fun to make, and made for an enjoyable dinner, so thanks for posting it. :)

"Of course the issue could be that I had thinner chops, so less chop-to-parsnip ratio in the mouth."

Could be. My chops were boneless and thick, so the two chops were almost a full pound of pure meat.

Thanks for letting me know how it turned out!

I was thinking a firm polenta cooked on the (outdoor) grill rather than creamy polenta. But I take your points and like your cous cous idea better.

No, I assumed you meant a firm polenta. But I still think that if you ate the polenta and the parsnips together, you'd have a hard time distinguishing where one ends and the other begins -- and not in a good way. But that's just how it comes across in my head, which isn't exactly infallible :-) If you end up trying it with the polenta, let me know how it turns out!

Mushrooms, maybe? Just can't imagine a portabello and cherry combination. Looking through a Donna Hay cookbook, she offered the following substitution for veal in a dish: Haloumi cheese. I'm not familiar with it, but apparently you can fry it without it melting and it has the texture of mozz while tasting salty like feta. That might work with the parsnips and cherries.

Well it's a moot point now. After being put back on cholesterol meds I ended my 9 month vegetarian streak with a Father's Office burger (L.A.'s best burger) last night.
I still may see how that cherry vinaigrette works with polenta, just out of curiosity.

what are your "go-to" websites for recipes/inspiration? just wondering if you have any favorite sites beyond the obvious ones? i normally look to food network, cook's illustrated, martha stewart (when she has guest chefs like jean-georges, daniel boloud, and mario batali), and less often epicurious. i love to cook, but am not practiced or creative enough to create that gorgeous pork dish! i'd love some new sources!

I made this recipe last night. The vinaigrette didn't really come out right, but it was still quite delicious. Parsnips are now my new favorite root vegetables.


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