Pork Chops Marsala

Although pork is the most widely eaten meat in the world, many people do not know how that happened. Archeologists have proved that pigs were first domesticated nearly simultaneously about 10,000 years ago in eastern Turkey and 4,000 miles away in central China. More recently, genetic research has revealed how various breeds of hogs developed and the complex relationship between domestic pigs and wild boars.

Historians have documented that pigs were first brought to the New World by Christopher Columbus on his voyage to Cuba in 1493. Queen Isabella of Spain suggested that he take a few pigs along in case his crew needed emergency food on the voyage. If they had any left after the trip, they could leave them on the island where, as pigs do, they could multiply to supply meat for later visitors.

Pigs are prolific. When Hernando DeSoto landed at Tampa Bay, Florida, in 1539, he offloaded a herd of thirteen pigs. By the time of his death along the Mississippi River three years later, that original herd had increased to seven hundred porkers, despite the fact that Spanish explorers often enjoyed roast pork after a good day’s travel searching for gold.

Roast pork is one of my favorite dishes. I like my mother’s version of Pork Pot Roast on cold winter evenings, and my Boneless Pork Roast with its crispy crust and aromatic perfume that might well have been inspired by an essay I first read in Charles Lamb’s Essays of EliaDissertation on Roast Pig open when I was ten or eleven years old. “A Dissertation Upon Roast Pig” is now nearly two hundred years old, but it still tickles my fancy. In it, he explains how roast pig was invented long ago in China.

As the story goes, Ho-ti the swineherd left his son Bo-bo to take care of their hovel. Bo-bo started a fire which not only burned down the house but also burned a litter of young pigs to death. Bo-bo accidentally discovered how wonderful they tasted and persuaded his father to taste a piece of roast pig. Ho-ti then swears his son to silence and begins helping him burn down the house for a meal of roast pig whenever their sow farrowed another litter.

The neighbors began to suspect something and turned the father and son in to the authorities. Complications ensue, but the story ends happily, except, of course, for the pigs. You really should read the essay. My copy of Essays of Elia was published in 1886, but you can find “A Dissertation Upon Roast Pig” on line, and it is very much worth the quarter hour it takes to read it. It might inspire you to try another great recipe like Pork Chops Marsala.


8 oz. mushrooms
3 T chopped onion
1 T minced garlic
4 T all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. black pepper
1/4 tsp. rosemary
1/8 tsp. paprika
Dash of cayenne
2 T olive oil
2 T butter
4 medium pork chops (5 – 6 ounces each)
1 cup water
1 tsp. instant chicken bouillon
1/4 cup Dry Marsala
Pasta of your choice


Clean the mushrooms, onion and garlic. Cut the mushrooms into moderately thick slices, Chop the onion into a quarter-inch dice and mince the garlic. Set these vegetables aside in a medium-sized bowl. Start heating the water for the pasta.

Blend the salt, pepper, rosemary, paprika and cayenne into the flour in a pie plate.

Heat the oil and butter in a skillet. Raise the heat under the water. Cook the pasta according to directions on the package.

Flour the pork chops and cook them over moderate heat until they are lightly browned on both sides, about three minutes per side. Remove them from the pan and set them aside. Reserve the leftover flour.

If you do not have four tablespoons of oil in the pan, add equal amounts of oil and butter as needed. Blend the flour left over from breading the chops into the oil. Add the mushrooms, onion and garlic and cook them over moderate heat for about four minutes, stirring often and being careful not to burn the mixture. Return the pork chops to the pan along with a cup of water, the instant bouillon and Marsala.

Simmer for six or seven minutes and serve with the pasta. Stir the sauce and turn the chops two or three times.

NOTES: You can substitute rice for the pasta. Fettuccine is my usual choice of pasta for this dish.

Mushroom, Spinach, and Sausage Penne

When I was growing up, every kid I knew loved Popeye the Sailor Man. We followed the comic in the Sunday newspapers and roared with our friends when a Popeye cartoon came on the screen before the matinee at the theater Saturday afternoons. When we tried to cadge a Coke at the drug store, we loved to promise, “I’ll gladly pay you Tuesday,” but since the soda jerks knew us we were less successful than Wimpy who loved to beg for hamburgers.

Adults liked the comics ands cartoons too. By 1938 Popeye was a more popular cartoon character than Mickey Mouse. He got his strength from eating canned spinach. When his girlfriend Olive Oyl was in danger from the nasty Bluto, Popeye needed only to gulp down a can of the green stuff to get the best of his foe.

Popeye was capable of great things. One miraculous thing he did was to increase the consumption of canned spinach in the US by nearly a third during the 1930’s. The most popular brand was Popeye Spinach, which was the kind my mother forced us to eat at least once a month. “It’s good for you, it has lots of iron to make you strong like Popeye.” I figured that he had to be strong to eat the stuff.

After we were married, Jerri continued the torture. Every couple of weeks she served canned spinach with a chopped hardboiled egg and vinegar. Though it’s still not my favorite, her recipe for canned spinach made it palatable if not exactly a gourmet food.

Then one day I discovered that I liked spinach, fresh spinach to be exact. A friend sneaked some into a salad and when I asked what the dark green leaves were that tasted so good, she told me that it was spinach from their garden. I have been hooked ever since.

The recipe below is further evidence that lightly cooked fresh spinach is a food of the gods.


1 T olive oil
1/2 lb. breakfast sausage
8 oz. penne pasta
Water and salt to cook the penne
8 oz. mushrooms
2 cloves garlic
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese
12 oz can cream of mushroom soup
2 – 3 T dry white wine
2 – 3 cups chopped spinach
Grind or two of black pepper


Start warming the water for the pasta over low heat.

Clean and slice the mushrooms and put them into a medium bowl.

Wash and coarsely chop the spinach.

Put a tablespoon of olive oil into a large skillet over medium heat. Add the sausage and break it into small pieces. Cook it until it is no longer pink, seven to eight minutes.

Remove the paper from the garlic and mince it. Add the mushrooms to the sausage and cook them for four to five minutes. Add the minced garlic and cook for another two or three minutes.

Bring the pasta water to a boil while the sausage is cooking. Add a teaspoon of salt and the penne. Cook until it reaches the al dente stage, about ten minutes, then drain it.

Add the cream of mushroom soup, wine and Parmesan cheese to the sausage and stir for two or three minutes. Turn the heat to low and add the spinach and pasta. Grind some black pepper into the mixture and stir to mix well until the spinach has wilted.

Taste and adjust the seasoning.

NOTES: Spinach may not make you as strong as Popeye, but it has significant amounts of vitamins A, C and K, so it really is good for you.

We use either sauvignon blanc or Chardonnay wine. In a pinch you could use vermouth, but avoid any of the sweeter wines like Riesling or Gewürztraminer.

This recipe benefits a lot from the spinach, so don’t be afraid to add a generous three cups of it, but if you are cooking for people who announce that they don’t like spinach, use only two cups and tell them that the green stuff is kale. If they say that they don’t like kale either, you might offer them peanut butter sandwiches.