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11 December 2011

Port Braised Pork Steak with Roasted Grapes & Grilled Polenta

I'm a bigger meat eater than my significant other. He prefers the side dishes and I prefer the main courses. It's a perfect matrimony of selective allocation. I'm very finical with my vegetables and being a Mom can be stressful because I have to provide a healthy array of well-balanced food to my kids.  That means cooking and eating all the vegetables like I am loving every single bite I take. Whew! Up until now, my little scheme is working so.... Ssshhhhhh!  No one tells the kids that Mom is a closet fussy vegetable eater! 

In my former unhealthier life, I used to eat a lot of meat (and fish!) and practically evaded veggies.  That I think you all know if you had been following my blog.   When I met my better half, I learned to eat my greens.  It was a big accomplishment that would have made my parents nod and shake their heads at the same time.  Twenty six years of pushing & lecturing  against a couple of years of my husband's way was unjust. Sorry Mom & Dad in heaven, all it took was education.  I was re-educated about the health benefits of all things edible by my husband and the whole country.  No, it's not like the whole country ganged up on me. It's because Italy is the first country I knew that speaks, ingests and breathes food.  Even barely-speaking toddlers know their food well.

In Italy, food is life.  And life is about food. 

Once, I preferred eating pork from beef or chicken. After learning that it is not really the healthiest choice especially on warmer months, I switched to veal & chicken.  But hey, it doesn't mean that I completely forgot about my meat of choice in my former life. So on infrequent occasions, whenever I do buy some, I make sure I cook them in a special way. 

This recipe is absolutely tasty and good. It was so good that the kids ate more than their share, asking for seconds, thirds, until I couldn't keep track anymore!  It was a good thing I took pictures of these protagonists right before they disappeared!

Feel free to change the side dish. Although we thought the grilled polenta complemented the dish very well. You can substitute port with marsala, sherry or other fortified wine. I love the taste of port & marsala so I use them a lot in cooking. 

1.  The double set medieval Sienese walls surrounding Capalbio that can be used to walk around the town.  2.  The terrace of Ristorante la Porta.   3.  One of the medieval alleys in Capalbio decorated with local artists' artwork.  4.  Inside the Church of San Nicola.
Let me share with you the two beautiful Tuscan towns, Capalbio and Magliano in Toscana we visited a few weeks ago. I remembered how much I enjoyed my lunch in a simple trattoria called Ristorante la Porta in Capalbio. We had traditional meat-based Maremma food.   I remember how much I loved the grilled pork ribs. There were no elaborate sauces or anything like that, just straight to the grill then to my plate.

1.  & 2.  Typical medieval setting in Capalbio.   3.  Porta Senese, the gateway to the town center.
Capalbio beach is a popular destination for beach holidays. The old town, on the other hand, is set on a hilltop surrounded by ancient walls in the middle of Maremma. The abundance of game in the area, especially boar, reflects the local Maremma cuisine.

What remains of the ceiling of the Monastery of San Bruzio from the year 1000 of the Camaldolese monastic order established by St. Romuald.
1.  Double set Sienese wall of Capalbio.   2.  The main square of Capalbio.  3. & 4.  Decorative plants lining the narrow streets of Capalbio.
1.  And yet another picture of Capalbio's medieval wall.   2.  & 3.  The ruins of the Monastery of San Bruzio from the year 1000 of the Camaldolese monastic order.    4.  The view from Capalbio.  5.  Crostini of Ristorante la Porta.
1.  Porta San Martino leading to the walls of Magliano in Toscana.   2.  Manhole.  3.  Church of San Martino.  4. Wall from Porta San Martino.
Magliano in Toscana is also surrounded by double set Sienese walls from the Middle Ages and Renaissance period. The town is smaller and more quiet than its bigger neighbor, Capalbio. The town is well-known for the archeological finds around the area from the Etruscan civilization. The Etruscan Disk of Magliano was the most important archeological find connected to this town because it proved to be fundamental in deciphering the ancient Etruscan language.  

Porta San Martino of Magliano in Toscana.
That ends my history lesson.  If you are like me, who is quite curious by nature, just click on the links to understand more about these towns and the important archeological finds.   Meantime, I hope you enjoy the recipe I am sharing. 

Panorama from Magliano in Toscano. 

Port Brasied Pork Steak with Roasted Grapes & Grilled Polenta

Serves 4
  • 800 grams pork neck fillet steaks (I used pork neck cuts.  I heard that it is not easy to find this cut in the U.S., so just improvise with another kind of pork cut)
  • 500 grams grapes, white or red, halved and seeded
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • salt & pepper
  • 1 yellow shallot (or 1/2 onion), sliced
  • 1-1/2 cups port
  • sprigs of thyme 
  • 250 grams polenta flour
  • 500 ml. water (Sometimes the amount of water differs in every package.  Follow the one written on your package.)
  1. I suggest cooking the sauce first because the meat cooks faster and they are good when eaten straight from the pan while still tender and juicy.
  2. Put the grapes on a baking dish and roast in the oven for 30 minutes.  Set aside. 
  3. In a big saucepan, sautè the shallot with extra virgin olive oil.  After 3 minutes, add the port.  Let the alcohol evaporate on high flame.  You would understand that the alcohol has completely evaporated when you don't smell any trace of it in the smoke. Turn off the fire.
  4. Meantime, rub the pork with salt & pepper.  Let it stand for at least 5 minutes.  
  5. Grill them on a hot griddle or on a hot saucepan with very little extra virgin olive oil.  Turn them over after 2 minutes each side, then continue cooking until about 8 - 10 minutes turning them over once in a while.
  6. In the saucepan with the port, put the roasted grapes and their juices.  When the sauce starts to thicken, about 15 minutes, add the cooked pork slices and let them absorb the sauce.  Add the thyme.  Cook together for 5 minutes.  
  7. For the grilled polenta, you can also use the leftover from the day before because they are more compact.  
  8. To cook the polenta from scratch instead, boil the water with some salt.  When it starts to boil, drizzle the polenta flour in the water while stirring constantly with a wooden spoon.  Do not stop stirring to avoid burning.  Cook according to the number of minutes suggested in the packaging.  Normally, it's about 5 -15 minutes for the instant ones. 
  9. Transfer to a baking pan and make a layer of about 2 cm. in height.  Let it cool and set.  When it's set, slice them to squares and cook them on a hot griddle on both sides.