This recipe is the ideal centerpiece for an elegant dinner party. Pork chops are pounded thin, breaded, pan fried, and then topped with a fresh salad of arugula, tomato, onion, and mozzarella. The combination of sprightly cool garden flavors and warm crispy meat in each bite is thoroughly satisfying.

This classic recipe, from Lidia’s Italian American Kitchen by Lidia Bastianich, scales well for a dinner party. Just preheat the oven as directed, line some extras baking sheets with foil, and have them ready to hold each batch of pork chops and you finish frying them. With the salad prepared slightly ahead, all you have to do is pull the pans from the oven, put a chop on each plate, and top with the salad. You have a sophisticated entry with little last minute hustle involved.

This recipe calls for “Frenching” the chops, a technique to ensure even cooking of the meat. You can do it yourself as described below, or ask your butcher to spend a few moments to prepare your meat.

Pork Chops Capricciosa

Serves: 2 persons, but scales easily

Ingredients:

For the Pork Chops:

2 loin pork chops, from the rib end of the loin, each about 8 ounces and ¾ inches thick
Salt
Freshly ground black pepper
All-purpose flour
1 cup fine, dry bread crumbs
1 large egg
¼ cup vegetable oil
2 tablespoons olive oil

For the Salad:

4 cups arugula, washed and dried (preferably in a salad spinner) and torn into large pieces
1 ripe the beefsteak tomato (or or three plum tomatoes), cored and cut 1 -inch chunks (about 1 cup)
½ small onion, thinly sliced (about 1 cup)
4 ounces fresh mozzarella cheese, cut into 1-inch cubes (about ⅔ cup), optional
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
1 ½t tablespoons red wine vinegar, or to taste
Salt
Freshly ground black pepper

Preparation:

“Frenching” the chops —  cleaning up the bone —  prevents the “eye” of the meat, which is pounded out, from overcooking before the meat next to the bone is cooked, and it does make the finished chops pretty. It is something I do for guests in my restaurants, and it is easy enough to learn and do at home. You can, of course, prepare this recipe without Frenching the chops; just be careful that the meat next to the bone is fully cooked for you serve the chops.

You can prepare most of ingredients — even bread the pork chops — in advance but don’t fry the pork, slice the onion, or toss the salad until the last minute.

Without the mozzarella in the salad, these chops are perfect for lunch or light dinner. With the mozzarella it more substantial. You can use balsamic vinegar in place of all or part of the wine vinegar if you like. As always, dress the salad first with olive oil to coat the leaves, then sprinkle in vinegar to taste.

To French the chops, first cut away as much meat and fat as possible from the last 2 inches or so of the bone. Clean the exposed part of the bone further by scraping with the back of the knife. To get the French part of the bone really clean, grab onto the remaining meat and fat with a kitchen towel and pull it the bone, leaving the French part of the bone completely stripped (you can reserve the trimmed meat and fat to use in sausages.) Place the chops between two sheets of plastic wrap and pound the meat with the smooth side of a meat mallet to a thickness of about ⅓ inch. If you  find the chops are not thinning out, switch to the toothed side of the mallet for a few strokes, then back to the smooth side. Season the chops lightly with salt and pepper

Preheat the oven to 400°F. Spread out the flour and bread crumbs onto separate plates or sheets of wax paper. Beat the egg in a wide, shallow bowl until thoroughly blended. Dredge the chops in flour to coat them lightly  and tap off any excess flour. Dip the beaten egg and hold them over bowl, letting the excess egg drip back into the bowl. Move the chops to the breadcrumbs and turn to coat completely, patting them gently to make sure that the crumbs adhere.

Heat the vegetable oil and  2 tablespoons olive oil in a wide, heavy skillet over medium heat until a corner one of the coated chops in soft lively sizzle when dipped in the oil. Lay the chops in the oil and fry, turning once, until golden on both sides, about six minutes. Transfer to a baking sheet and bake until no trace of until no trace of pink remains near the bone, about six minutes.

Meanwhile prepare the salad. Toss the arugula, tomato, onion, and mozzarella, if using, together with ¼ cup olive oil in a large bowl until the vegetables are coated. Add the vinegar, and salt and pepper to taste, and toss well.

Remove the chops from the oven. If they look a little oily, drain them briefly on paper towels. Arrange one shop in the center of each plate and mound with salad. Serve immediately.

Source: Lidia’s Italian American Kitchen by Lidia Bastianich