Thursday Dinner: Mozzarella Stuffed Pork Pizzaola

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There’s something cathartic or therapeutic about using a meat hammer. For this dish, I had to take four 3-inch pieces of a pork tenderloin and pound them to 1/4-inch thick. After a long day at the office, I’m not sure that there is a better investment of upper body strength.

When I was a child, my parents had this massive gavel-like hammer with a flat wooden side and a steel side for tenderizing. Mine is about 1/3 of the size and solid steel (thank you Oxo). The extra-heavy hammer transfers a lot of energy to the meat, flattening it nicely and without a lot of effort.

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Put aside emotional outbursts for a second. What you are doing here is using a blunt instrument to change the shape and use of the meat. With 2 or 3 heavy whacks, the pork has been transformed from a roasting meat to a frying meat. In a few swings of the hammer, you cut your cooking time in half.

And, you have the opportunity to work out a little angst from your day, though I doubt your shrink would approve.

WHAT WORKED: Jennifer Olvera’s original called for scamorza, a cheese closely related to mozzarella. Wegmans does not carry it and my go-to Italian grocery was out of it (always good to call ahead). So, I went with a block of “dry” mozzarella from the dairy case. I would choose this over fresh simply because there is less moisture to be released during the cooking process.

WHAT DIDN’T: Me. I managed to sear the top of my thumb on an oven rack while removing the pork from the oven. I really should not be left alone. Also, she calls for bay leaf. I used to have a container of them, but I’ll be damned if I know where The Kid hid them. See, she likes to play with my spices…

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WHAT DID THE WIFE SAY: “The sauce tastes different. A little more peppery than a straight marinara.”

WILL IT MAKE ANOTHER APPEARANCE: Oh yes. This would be a perfect dish for entertaining a group.

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Mozzarella Stuffed Pork Pizzaola
Adapted from Jennifer Olvera’s original at Serious Eats

  • 1 to 1 1/2 lbs. pork tenderloin, sliced into four equal-length pieces
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 16 oz. part-skim, low moisture mozzarella cheese
  • 1 1/2 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 large yellow onion, chopped finely
  • 3 garlic cloves, smashed, peeled and minced
  • 1/2 cup dry red wine (I used a Yellow Tail pinot noir that I had nearby)
  • 24 oz. jar of passata, or strained canned tomato sauce
  • 2 roasted red pepper hulls, chopped
  • 2 bay leaves (optional)
  • crushed red pepper
  • 1 lb. short pasta (I used Barilla mezzi rigatoni)
  • 1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes

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Pound each pork section to 1/4-inch thick using a meat hammer/tenderizer.  Be sure to use a safe, sturdy work surface. Season with salt and pepper and place a piece of cheese at one end. Fold the pork over, and tie the section together with a piece of kitchen twine or roasting string to hold securely. Repeat until you have all four pieces bundled.

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Heat oil in a Dutch oven over medium-high heat until it shimmers. Add the pork and brown on each side, cooking for about 10 minutes. Transfer pork to a foil-lined baking sheet.

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Turn your burner down to medium and add the garlic and onion. Cook, while stirring, 3 to 4 minutes. Add the wine and deglaze the pan, using a wooden spoon to scrape up any browned bits from the pan. Simmer 2 minutes. Add the roasted red pepper, passata, bay leaf, and red pepper. Season with salt and pepper, and bring to a bubbling simmer. Cook 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, cook your pasta in a large pan of boiling, salted water per the manufacturer’s instructions. Drain and set aside.

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While the sauce is cooking, preheat your broiler to high. Using kitchen shears, clip the twine from each pork bundle. Place a slice of cheese on top of each pork bundle. Broil for 3 to 4 minutes, or until the cheese is melted and begins to brown. Remove from the broiler and use a spatula to transfer the pork to the Dutch oven. Cook 5 to 10 minutes, or until the pork has cooked all the way through.

Remove the bay leaves. Top the pasta with sauce, followed by the pork. Serve immediately with grated cheese and crusty Italian bread.

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