I had to travel to Iowa unexpectedly last week to attend the funeral of a dear uncle who left this earth far too soon. Thankfully, my two Italian men volunteered to help me out with this week’s column by choosing the recipe and producing the photo shoot in my absence.

My gratitude for this show of love is deep, and I hope I can do justice to the fun they had making this family favorite: Gio’s Pork Pizzaiola. Originally known as carne pizzaiola, this dish originated in Naples, Italy, the birthplace of pizza. It received the name pizzaiola because of the use of tomatoes and oregano in the sauce, which are also used to make a traditional Neapolitan pizza sauce.

This classic Italian dish features meat that has been pounded into thin cutlets, scaloppine-style, which are then finished in the rustic tomato sauce. While traditionally made with lesser cuts of beef (since the meat is cooked all the way through), we prefer to use pork loin or tenderloin when making our pizzaiola, and chicken is also another great alternative.

Scaloppine is an Italian method for preparing meat that utilizes a meat mallet to pound thicker pieces of meat into very thin, tender cutlets. This method, and this dish, was created by peasants to utilize lesser cuts of meat without sacrificing flavor.

A meat tenderizer is used to pound the pork, making a thinner slice. Meagan Deanne / The Forum
A meat tenderizer is used to pound the pork, making a thinner slice. Meagan Deanne / The Forum

For this occasion, Tony and Gio purchased a family pack of boneless pork top loin chops, using about 2 pounds for this recipe. You could also use whole pork loin or tenderloin, but buying the pork already cut into chops helps to speed the process along on a busy evening.

Cutting off the excess fat on the pork is the first step in making Gio's Pork Pizzaiola. Meagan Deanne / The Forum
Cutting off the excess fat on the pork is the first step in making Gio's Pork Pizzaiola. Meagan Deanne / The Forum

They trimmed the fat from each chop and then sliced them lengthwise into three separate cutlets approximately ¼-inch thick. Next, they used a meat mallet to pound each cutlet until about 1/8-inch thick, for tender cutlets that cook quickly.

Dredging is a cooking technique used to coat wet or moist foods with a dry ingredient prior to cooking. Meagan Deanne / The Forum
Dredging is a cooking technique used to coat wet or moist foods with a dry ingredient prior to cooking. Meagan Deanne / The Forum

To protect the pork and maintain safe meat-handling practices when pounding, we recommend using the flat side of the meat mallet and placing each cutlet between a layer of plastic wrap. Once the cutlets have been pounded thin, they are dredged in a mixture of flour, salt and pepper, and sauteed in oil for about four minutes until opaque and slightly golden brown on both sides and cooked through.

Thinner slices of pork cutlets have a quick cooking time. Meagan Deanne / The Forum
Thinner slices of pork cutlets have a quick cooking time. Meagan Deanne / The Forum

This is a quick and easy dish to prepare, especially if you follow our steps. We begin by prepping the pork cutlets through the dredging stage, and then start the sauce. We’ve found that the San Marzano variety of canned plum tomatoes works particularly well with this dish, as their natural sweetness complements the savory pork.

After cooking, the pork is then served in fresh oregano tomato sauce. Meagan Deanne / The Forum
After cooking, the pork is then served in fresh oregano tomato sauce. Meagan Deanne / The Forum

While the sauce is cooking, we quickly saute the pork and then transfer all the cooked cutlets to the sauce to cook for another five minutes, so that they are hot and full of flavor when serving. The entire process takes only about 30 to 40 minutes, making this an excellent choice for busy weeknights. To make it even simpler, you can prepare both the pork cutlets and the sauce a day or two in advance of serving and finish them together just before serving.

Easy to make and so delicious, I’d wager that we make Gio’s Pork Pizzaiola at least twice a month for dinner. We hope it becomes a favorite at your table, too.

Giovanni Nasello holds a plate of Gio's Pork Pizzaiola. Meagan Deanne / The Forum
Giovanni Nasello holds a plate of Gio's Pork Pizzaiola. Meagan Deanne / The Forum

Gio’s Pork Pizzaiola

Gio's Pork Pizzaiola served with fresh parsley on top. Meagan Deanne / The Forum
Gio's Pork Pizzaiola served with fresh parsley on top. Meagan Deanne / The Forum


Ingredients:

½ cup all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon kosher salt

½ teaspoon black pepper

2 pounds boneless pork top loin chops, fat trimmed

1 cup canola or olive oil (for frying)

For the sauce:

¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil

1 cup yellow onion, medium-dice

2 cloves garlic, minced

¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

One 28-ounce can whole, peeled tomatoes, about 3 ½ to 4 cups (use San Marzano tomatoes for best results)

½ teaspoon dried oregano flakes

2 to 3 sprigs fresh thyme

One 14.5-ounce can chicken stock

¾ teaspoon kosher salt

½ teaspoon black pepper

2 tablespoons fresh parsley, stems removed, finely chopped

Directions:

Place the flour, 1 teaspoon salt and ½ teaspoon black pepper in a pie plate or shallow dish and use a whisk or fork to mix together until combined; set aside.

On a cutting board, stand each pork chop up and slice downward into 3 cutlets ¼-inch thick. Lay a piece of plastic wrap over a cutting board and place a pork cutlet in the center. Cover with another piece of plastic wrap and use the flat side of a meat mallet to pound the cutlet until very thin, about 1/8-inch thick. Place cutlet on a plate and repeat steps for remaining cutlets.

Dredge each pounded cutlet into the flour mixture, turning once to coat both sides. Shake to remove excess flour and return to the plate.

In a large skillet, heat the olive oil over medium-low heat until hot. Add the onions and saute until soft and translucent, about 3 to 4 minutes. Add the garlic and crushed red pepper flakes and continue to saute over medium-low for 1 minute.

Add the tomatoes and increase heat to medium-high. Cook for 5 minutes, using a wooden spoon to break the tomatoes down into rough chunks. Stir in the oregano, thyme, chicken stock, salt and pepper and cook over medium heat for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Meanwhile, in a separate large skillet, add ¾ cup canola oil and heat over medium-high until hot. Test by placing an edge of one cutlet into the oil; if it sizzles, the oil is ready. Working in batches, place a layer of cutlets in the pan and cook over medium-high for 2 minutes until each cutlet is slightly golden brown on the bottom. Reduce heat to medium, turn the cutlets over and continue cooking until each cutlet is opaque and slightly golden brown on both sides, about 1 to 2 more minutes. Repeat until all the cutlets are cooked, adding more oil as needed.

Transfer cooked cutlets to a paper-towel lined plate and let rest at room temperature until the sauce is ready. Add the cooked pork cutlets to the sauce, layering on top of each other if needed. Cook for another 5 minutes over medium-low heat, until the sauce has thickened slightly and the cutlets are thoroughly heated.

Transfer cutlets to serving plates or platter, top with the sauce and garnish with fresh parsley. Serve immediately.

Sarah’s Tips:

  • The pork cutlets may be prepped up to 2 days in advance and cooked just before serving. Once they’re dredged in flour, place a layer of plastic wrap between each raw cutlet and refrigerate for up to 2 days in a plastic bag or airtight container. Remove from fridge 30 minutes before cooking.
  • The sauce may be prepared up to 2 days in advance and refrigerated until ready to use. Reheat in a large saute pan over medium heat until hot before adding the cooked pork cutlets.

“Home with the Lost Italian” is a weekly column written by Sarah Nasello featuring recipes by her husband, Tony Nasello. The couple owned Sarello’s in Moorhead and lives in Fargo with their son, Giovanni. Readers can reach them at sarahnasello@gmail.com.