I come from a family that cooks together, so I like to have company in the kitchen. Sadly, in my tiny kitchen (and in the kitchens of most of my friends) company causes more stress than pleasure. But it was not always so. While in graduate school I, along with many of my friends, lived in the land of big kitchens and affordable apartments. So communal cooking did actually occur, and quite harmoniously.
One time in particular I recall three friends and I pooled our efforts and prepared a feast for many. It was a banner day because it was the first time I realized that those that I had previously assumed were unfamiliar with the kitchen were in fact excellent cooks. Vivian provided the decadent restaurant-worthy dessert, and Laia introduced me to a main dish from her native Spain that I had never had the pleasure of tasting before...her great aunt's pork in tomato and almond sauce.
I was thinking back on the meal fondly the other day...so fondly in fact that I set out to recreate the dish. I could not simply ask for the recipe, as during the night in question she had been working off of a few scribbled notes that she had taken from a phone conversation with her mother. Quantities were not included in said notes. It was all trial and error and the results were wonderful.
So I set about searing, sauteing, simmering and blending,
enjoying the process of tasting my way through a dish. Tasting in such detail was a revelation as it highlighted what a wonderful addition the almonds are to the sauce (a stark before and after). They provided a heft and richness, yet the sauce remained light, I suppose due to the lack of dairy products. Gotta love that Mediterranean diet.
It occurred to me that the Italians use walnuts in much the same way that the Spanish apparently use almonds...or in some cases they use them as the main feature in the sauce, rather than as a supporting player (demonstrated very deliciously here). My head is fairly spinning with all of the other nut possibilities...cashews with some sort of indian sauce, peanuts with some spice...far too many good options!
Pork Chops in Almond Sauce (which may or may not resemble that of Laia's great aunt)
4 pork chops, bone in (Laia used thin boneless slices of loin, I leave the choice up to you)
2-3 tablespoons olive oil
1 carrot, diced
2 ribs of celery, diced
1 medium onion, diced
1-2 bay leaves
3-4 sprigs of thyme, leaves striped of stem
1/2 cup white wine
28 oz can of whole peeled tomatoes
1 cup raw almonds (or to taste)
salt to taste
Heat olive oil in a dutch oven or other heavy bottomed pan. Salt chops generously and brown on each side until golden. Remove chops to a plate. Saute carrot, celery and onion in remaining fat until onion is translucent. Add bay leaves and thyme and saute for a minute or two. Deglaze the pan with wine, and add tomatoes, breaking up with a spoon. Bring to boil and reduce to simmer. Simmer for 10 minutes, and add chops back to sauce, simmering at low heat for another 20 minutes.
With a large spoon, remove as much of the sauce as you comfortably can to a food processor or blender. Blend almonds with the sauce, adding a bit at a time and tasting, so that you add only enough to satisfy your own palate. Return sauce to the pan with the pork chops, simmer for a minute or two and serve.