If someone asked me, “What is a romantic meal?” I’m sure I would be expected to have an answer. After all, I’m a food blogger; I’m a cooking teacher. I’m married to the man of my dreams. I don’t think I do, though. (Today’s Pork Chop Parmesan with Lemon Mushroom Risotto might qualify!) Do I even know how to define “romantic”? To begin with, the word “romantic” is both an adjective and a noun. Leave it to the English major to think of that. If you just drop the word “romantic” into a conversation, I’m likely to think of Brahms, Chopin, Verdi, or Beethoven because I’m also a musician. While several definitions pop up when you search, here is one likely to make sense to most folks:
...conducive to or characterized by the expression of love. "A romantic candlelit dinner." ~Oxford LanguagesJump to Recipe
I’ve cooked dinner, turned on the music, and lit the candles thousands of times in my life; some occasions might have been romantic but others weren’t. Did the meal make the difference? Were chicken tacos washed down with lawnmower beer at the picnic table less romantic than steak and expensive red wine served in the dining room? What about popcorn and coke at the movies, where many a romance has blossomed? Were mouths wiped with paper towels just as conducive to kissing as those cleaned by ironed linen napkins imported from France? Was dinner only romantic if it was a dinner for two? (How did we have romance all those years with children in the house?) Must romantic meals be expensive or consumed in swank restaurants? Has anyone fallen in love at McDonald’s? What about clothing…where does it fit in? Are you less romantic if you come to the table in a paint-smeared sweatshirt? Are you more romantic should you arrive in a 3-piece suit or silk dress? This 68-year old food blogger wants to know since she often forgets to take her (usually dirty) apron off until she’s nearly in her chair.
"Isn't it Romantic?" sung by Ella Fitzgerald for the movie "Sabrina" (directed by Billy Wilder/starring Humphrey Bogart and Audrey Hepburn)
My guess is a lot of people struggle over what is and what is not romantic and probably not only when we discuss food. Luckily food is my thing and I can leave the rest to someone else. If I make myself take the food thing apart and look at it closely, it simply doesn’t come down to a specific food or even the meal (Did I really say that?) or whether you have a one or five course dinner, a nice tablecloth on a long table or a clean tv tray, an expensive wine or a can of club soda. What makes someone know you care about them –and isn’t that romantic??– might be real stuff like spending your afternoon off shopping and getting dinner on the stove so you both can sit down together and relax while filling your bellies after a long hard week. Or figuring out how to make a dish they love but never make for themselves because they’re afraid to try it. Dumplings or fish and chips? Maybe getting a recipe from their abuela for chiles relleños. Stirring up a pot of simple broth when their stomach is upset or they have a wretched cold in their nose. Baking cookies because they’re a cookie monster. Picking up pizza because, well, pizza. Putting Starbucks gift cards in their Christmas stocking. Cooking AND doing the dishes for the third night in a row since they’re working 12 hours a day and need dinner, a shower, and bed in that order.
It’s not that a night out on the town dressed to the nines for a fancy dinner can’t be romantic — because it surely can — but the romance around food is often more honest, tangible, absolute, and daily. We don’t always say these words, but what we mean is… “I love you and want you to be healthy, so there’s vegetable soup tonight.” “I care about the things you love and know you’ll laugh since there are your favorite tacos for lunch.” “Chili’s in the slow cooker; cooking’s done, so let’s watch a movie together.”
Valentine’s Day at home needn’t be a complicated meal, but if you’ve the money (pork chops are actually pretty inexpensive), the time, and the energy to devote to cooking, I’ve no doubt it will say to your love or a friend you’ve invited over for the evening, “Look at this; eat and enjoy. Let’s rest and refresh ourselves with this meal.” If there’s time and the ability, dress up the table so it appears you’re both welcome and planned for. You might give thanks or share a joke or five good stories about childhood. Perhaps you’ll dream of a trip you’d like to take or a family event someone might plan. Maybe an old argument could get settled. A plan for working on updating the bathroom discussed. Dinner and the time around it are not only about eating. Singles, put on some music, pour a glass of wine and make this whole meal for yourself; you won’t have to cook tomorrow when you try this:
Pork Chop Parmesan with Lemon-Mushroom Risotto
- 2 bone-in loin pork chops at least 1-inch thick, 10-12 ounces each
- Kosher salt and fresh ground pepper
- 1/2 cup unbleached, all-purpose flour stirred together with ¼ teaspoon each kosher salt and fresh ground black pepper
- 1 egg beaten with 1 tablespoon of water and a pinch each salt and pepper
- ½ cup fresh or panko bread crumbs stirred together with ¼ cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, ½ teaspoon kosher salt, ¼ teaspoon fresh ground black pepper, and a pinch of ground cayenne
- 2 tablespoons EACH salted butter and olive oil
- Tomato sauce–recipe below
- Grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese for garnish
- Lemon-Mushroom Risotto — separate recipe
- Pat chops dry with paper towels and season both sides with salt and pepper.
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees F and set rack at center.
- Add butter and olive oil to a 10-inch heavy, oven safe skillet and heat over medium-high flame for a minute or two.
- Meanwhile, dredge chops on both sides first in seasoned flour, next in seasoned egg wash, and last in seasoned breadcrumbs, shaking off after each dredging. Press breading into the meat lightly with fingers.
- Fry the chops for 3-4 minutes on both sides until golden brown.
- Place pan in oven and roast until instant read thermometer reads 145 degrees F (6-8 minutes). Remove to plates, tent with foil, and rest 5 minutes. (I like 138-140 degrees F better, but FDA indicates 145 F.)
- Spoon ¼ cup warm tomato sauce over each chop and garnish with a tablespoon or two of grated Parmigiano-Reggiano. Serve with hot risotto.
Copyright Alyce Morgan, 2022. All rights reserved.
- 8 ounces cremini or button mushrooms, thinly sliced
- 1 garlic clove, minced
- Kosher salt and fresh ground pepper
- 4 tablespoons salted butter, divided
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 large shallots, diced (can sub small-medium red onion)
- 1 ½ cups arborio rice
- ¼ cup dry white wine
- Pinch of Aleppo pepper -can sub a tiny pinch of crushed red pepper
- 6 cups hot homemade chicken stock -can sub low sodium chicken broth
- 1 ½ teaspoons lemon zest or to taste
- 2 oz 1/2 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
- Optional: a tablespoon or two of butter or heavy cream
- SAUTÉ THE MUSHROOMS AND GARLIC. In a medium skillet, heat 2 tablespoons of the butter over medium-high flame. Sauté the mushrooms for two minutes. Add garlic, a pinch each salt and pepper, and cook another minute. Remove to a bowl and set aside.
- SAUTÉ THE SHALLOTS. In a 5–6-quart heavy pot, sauté the shallots for 2-3 minutes in the remaining 2 tablespoons butter and olive oil.
- ADD THE RICE. Stir in the rice until the grains are well-coated with fat and cook for a few minutes or until the rice is translucent and very lightly toasted.
- POUR IN THE WINE and, stirring, cook a few minutes until it has mostly been absorbed or evaporated.
- SEASON + ADD THE HOT BROTH A LADLE OR TWO AT A TIME. Stir in 1 1/2 teaspoons salt, ¼ teaspoon pepper, and pinch of Aleppo pepper. Pour in two ladles of broth and stir well. Simmer, stirring occasionally, until broth is absorbed and you can see the bottom of the pot when you pull a rubber spatula across it. Continue adding the broth a ladle or two at a time, stirring and simmering until it’s absorbed and then adding more – for a total of about 20 minutes or until rice is done to your liking (al dente is usually named here, but do as you like, please) and the mixture is creamy not runny. Taste the rice as you go along (after, say, the first 10 minutes) to see when it’s getting nearly done. If it’s not done and you’re going to run out of broth, add some water or more broth to the broth pan so that it heats and continue to add to the rice until it’s done. When rice is cooked to your liking, remove pot from heat.
- STIR IN THE RESERVED COOKED MUSHROOMS, LEMON ZEST, AND PARMIGIANO-REGGIANO. Taste and adjust seasonings. Cover for a few minutes. Stir well. The risotto should be creamy and fairly loose. If risotto isn’t creamy and loose enough, but instead sticky or gummy/gloppy, you can add more broth or the optional butter/heavy cream. Taste and adjust seasonings. Serve hot.
- Store leftovers tightly covered for 4-5 days. You can reheat with broth in a small pot to 160 degrees F or make into patties and fry, topping with poached eggs for brunch. The patties are also good on salad. I wouldn’t freeze risotto.
YA KNOW, I LIKE THIS…BUT I NEED A SIMPLIFIED VERSION:
- Buy jarred sauce; I like Rao’s.
- Grill or bake simply seasoned chops.
- Make spaghetti or plain rice with parsley instead of risotto. (Try the risotto by itself another night.)
WHAT ELSE GOES WITH PORK CHOP PARMESAN?
Starters: Herbed Goat Cheese Spread
First course: Italian Butternut Squash Soup
Dessert: Chocolate Mousse
Wine: If you know me, you know that while I adore European wines, I do so love and support our own American vineyards and all they make happen. Begin with a sparkling wine from New Mexico, Gruet. It’ll see you through the starter and soup. For the pork chops, try an American Rhône-style wine from California. Dessert? American port is perfect for chocolate right along with a cup of great coffee. And, just sayin’, there’s no driving home after a night of lovely wine when you cook at home.
If you liked this, you might also like my Scallops on Tomato-Basil Risotto with Asparagus
LIFE GOES ON
Like much of the U.S., we had a beautiful rain and then deep snow over the course of three days this last week. Still in Illinois in our airbnb, we stayed in quite a bit, watched “Fauda” and “Reacher” on Netflix, made a huge pot of chili, and enjoyed the view knowing the ground needed the moisture badly. I finally finished THE DRY, by Jane Harper — a top shelf debut novel. I gave Dave the first two Morse mysteries for Christmas (since we’re big Endeavor fans) and he’s reading the second one now. We did all indoor exercise, which while not so fun for Dave — who’s a daily 2-miler outdoors — was interesting for me. I got into different indoor walks, a few of which I’ve done for years, but kept up my usual youtube yoga practice. Interested in my yoga choice? Here’s the first video for beginners, seniors, or those just coming back to yoga.
When we ventured out in the car, this is what the street looked like:
Thanks for keeping me company in my kitchen this week. It means a lot. Stay warm and, as always,
Cook on and and be well,
I stole this from my old food blogging buddy Mary Bergfeld on fb but don’t know where Mary found it.