For a last-minute dinner for four, I ran to Publix with no preconceptions about what I’d cook, except that it had to be quick and not use too many (electric) burners at one time. I went right to the produce section and found instant inspiration in some great-looking salad ingredients–avocadoes, kumquats and lemons–all grown in Florida.
In the meat department, I found naturally-raised (whatever that means) pork from a named ranch in the mid-west. The loins were thinly sliced, perfect for breading and quick pan-frying. I bought them not because they were designer-labeled, but because they had a beautiful deep pink color and were sliced perfectly thinly, without the need for further pounding.
Next I needed eggs for breading and was delighted to find “Country Hen” organic eggs (at Publix, no less). These eggs have yolks that are so orange, they almost look like eggs found in Italy. I buy them almost exclusively when I’m not near an egg farm. They are the only commercial egg producer that invites its customers to eat their eggs raw without worry of bacteria.
This dish is great for guests because you can bread and partially fry the cutlets ahead of time, then finish them in a 275-degree oven while you’re enjoying a first course with your guests. The salad gets tossed at the last minute and served alongside the crisp cutlets. If you leave the cutlets in the oven too long, don’t worry–pork loin is very forgiving and the oven is mild enough not to overcook and dry out the meat–it will stay crispy on the outside and tender on the inside.
For our first course, I decided to make a simple pasta–fettucine with baby spinach, butter and parmigiano. This dish is so easy, I almost consider it cheating when I serve it to company–but it’s always comforting and well-received. It’s simply a box of pre-washed baby spinach tossed in a skillet of melted butter to wilt (plus a touch of chicken broth), then combined with pasta ribbons and lots of grated cheese.
After we finished pasta, I tossed the salad and served a large pile beside the slices of breaded pork. The salad was a revelation–the kumquats infused the dish with their sweet-tart flavor; the avocado with its buttery richness, and the dressing of lemon juice and extra-virgin olive oil added its own brightness and richness to the baby greens.
Pork Milanese, Florida-Style
2 lbs thinly sliced pork loin
2 c seasoned breadcrumbs (I used Progresso and added a tablespoon of freshly chopped parsley and a pinch of freshly grated nutmeg)
1 c flour for dredging
1/2 c olive oil for pan-frying
salt and pepper to taste
Dredge cutlets first in flour (shake off excess), then egg (shake off excess), then crumbs (press the crumbs into the cutlets well). Set aside (may be done up to an hour ahead).
A half-hour prior to serving, preheat oven to 275 degrees.
To fry, preheat oil until just about smoking (when you touch the oil with the tip of a piece of meat, it should sizzle immediately–if not, remove meat and allow oil to heat more). Fry on high heat for about 2 minutes on each side, then set aside in one layer on a baking sheet. Work in batches, changing the oil between batches. Sprinkle each batch lightly with salt as soon as it comes out of the skillet.
May be done an hour ahead, then set aside.
Place baking sheet in pre-heated oven about 20 – 30 minutes prior to serving and allow the meat to gently heat through.
4 large handfuls of mixed baby greens
8 kumquats, thinly sliced, with large seeds removed (slice them gently with a sharp knife, and knock out the seeds as you slice).
half a Florida avocado (larger, smoother and brighter green than California–may be eaten on the firmer side than California variety), peeled and cubed
juice of half a lemon
2 tbls extra-virgin olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
Toss ingredients together in a large mixing bowl and mound on the plate beside the hot, crispy cutlets.