Tuscan Pork with Plum Sauce: Not What You’d Expect


Take Home Lesson #2: Not What You’d Expect

Restaurant Version

Restaurant Version

When I think of plum sauce, my mind immediately goes to Asian cuisine. A delicious, viscous sauce with sweetness and umami to enhance many dishes.  So imagine my surprise to find pork in plum sauce on the menu at the first restaurant we dined in our first jet-lagged evening in Florence. My husband, who loves all things sweet, tangy and pork, made this is choice.  The dish arrived and it was not what we expected.  Perfectly cooked pieces of pork tenderloin (no doubt raised on the heady grassland of the Tuscan hillsides) gently cloaked with a light sauce of re-hydrated prunes to deglaze the pan. This was complemented by the subtle aromatic flavor of fresh bay leaves, something i had forgotten and came to embrace during our journey.  The sauce was not sweet and had a mellowed flavor from the prunes. A whole lotta umami and nothing I would have expected from my knowledge of Italian cuisine.

But that’s just the point. We know cultural cuisines in thin slices, stereotyped and collated to a few dishes that we then apply to whole countries. The real cuisine of any place is local, distinct and amazingly diverse. Villages and towns all around the world have signature dishes. Parma is known for its ham and cheese, Modena for balsamic vinegar and Alba for it’s truffles.  Travel books about Tuscany mention the bistecca Florentine and tripe as signature regional dishes, which they are. What they should also mention is the delicate, subtle ways that food is flavored with herbs and that you should stop at a local restaurant and try something that may end up being a delicious unexpected journey.


This pork dish was so delicious, I tried to recreate it. The trick was to mellow the sweetness of the dried prunes in rehydration.  I chose to soak them in a little dry white wine, which did the trick, although I’m not at all sure this is the actual method. My version had a little more sauce and rosemary as the herb (I have since acquired a very small bay laurel plant and am tending to it with great affection) . I soaked the prunes for 10 hours as a consequence of the work day, but I think 1-2 hours will be sufficient unless you have very dry prunes.  My husband loved it and has placed it in the list of ‘company dishes’, which those of you of a certain generation will understand.  The only real preparation involves soaking the prunes. Otherwise, the dish comes together in little more time than it takes to pan sautée a few pork chops. 

RECIPE: Tuscan Pork with Plum Sauce


  • 4 thick cut pork chops
  • Salt & Pepper
  • 4-5 sprigs of fresh rosemary
  • 8-10 prunes 
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • Extra virgin olive oil


  1. Soak prunes in white wine for a few hours (do this in advance)
  2. Remove pork chops from refrigerator and allow to come to room temperature (about an hour).
  3. Sprinkle liberally with salt and pepper. 
  4. Heat oil in heavy pan.  Add the rosemary and brown the pork chop, then reduce temperature and cook through. Place on a plate and loosely cover to keep warm. 
  5. Slice each prune in thirds.  Add prunes and wine to the pan with the rosemary and deglaze. Simmer for 1-2 minutes. Remove the rosemary and add any juices collected from the resting pork chops, and simmer another minute.
  6. Serve the pork chops with the sauce spooned over. 

Serves 4. 


Almost Meatless Monday


Instead of meatless, I think of all meals as Mostly Vegetables with a small amount of protein.  I eat meat, but it's not usually the focus of my food desires. I find this approach helps me get closer to the daily goal of 4-5 servings of fruits and vegetables daily. Using seasonal produce keeps it fresh and nutritious and gives me a sense of time and place as the year progresses.

Monday nights are always hectic when it comes to getting the evening meal ready.  What's in the fridge? What can I cook without too much time.  Good news! The fridge is filled with winter vegetables and a pork tenderloin from the farmers market.  I always have some curry paste and coconut milk on hand.  A stash of basmati lives in the freezer.

I think being unconstrained by specific recipes, and using a method,  choosing the ingredients on hand, is a much better way for me.  But that does require knowing a few methods.  This is an easy one and I go back to it often. It's a one pot approach, which I seem to have embraced in the past few years as I have been cooking much more regularly.

Although one doesn't find this combination in a traditional Panag curry, it's perfect for the time. Fennel is bountiful where I am, so I used it,  along with a gorgeous cauliflower, a slightly dried daikon, two sweet potatoes, and a bunch of rainbow chard. I like the cauliflower with some crunch, so I cut the pieces a little larger than the rest of the veggies.  I cut the pork tenderloin into small cubes.  I used a canned curry paste, just because it's easy.  I like Maseri brand.  The amounts of vegetables should be about 3 to 4 times the volume of the protein.  You can substitute, chick peas, tofu or paneer to keep it meatless.  Add chicken, another meat, shrimp, or a meaty fish.

This is a particularly delicious combination, but I encourage you to mix and match vegetables that you like.   You can use this method with any of the Thai curry pastes.

I have not added salt as the curry paste is high in sodium.   You can also make your own curry paste, lower the sodium and keep it in the freezer.

This makes a large pot of curry and serves 6-8. It's great for a left over lunch as well. I freeze it as well, making sure to thaw slowly in the fridge to keep a better texture of the ingredients .

Recipe: Vegetable and Pork Curry


  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin or expeller-pressed canola oil
  • 1 medium cauliflower, cut into florets (about 3 cups)
  • 2 small sweet potatoes (about 2 cups) 
  • 1 medium fennel bulb, chopped (about 2 cups)
  • 1 daikon (about 1 cup)
  • 1 bunch rainbow chard, leaves and stems, chopped (about 2 cups) 
  • 1 pork tenderloin (about 1-1/2 pound) 
  • 1-4 oz can Maesri Penang Curry Paste
  • 8oz coconut milk
  • 8oz water
  • 1/4 C cilantro leaves for garnish  
  • Lime wedges for serving


  1. Heat oil in a large nonstick pan with high sides.
  2. Add all vegetables and sautée over medium high heat until sweet potatoes are just cooked through.  (If using chick peas, add them with the vegetables).
  3. Add pork and curry paste and sautee for 3-4 minutes.
  4. Add water and coconut milk, mix well. 
  5. Cover and simmer for 6-8 minutes. 
  6. Serve with a little basmati rice or enjoy on its own. 
  7. Garnish with cilantro and a lime wedge if you like. 

Is Your Steak Safe?

Its grilling season! How safe is our steak? 

With the multiple outbreaks of E. Coli infections in the last decade, you'd think we'd want to lower the risk of E. Coli in our food. The most notorious E. Coli 0157:H7, causes 100,000 illnesses, 3,000 hospitalizations and 90 deaths annually in the United States.  Most people thought that avoiding ground meat was enough, as that's what was implicated in the previous outbreaks of contamination. The stories about E. Coli infection highlighted ground meat and gave the impression that steaks and whole cuts were safe.  Even FoodSafety.gov only mentions ground meats on its E. Coli page. So I thought whole cuts of meat were safe. I was wrong.

I first learned about this from one of my professors from medical school that I have kept in touch with.  He's a retired infectious disease specialist and very well educated about the the ills of our current food safety.   I was giving a community lecture on healthy lifestyles and he asked if I'd include mechanically tenderized meats in my next talk.  I didn't know anything about it. And so, my education into this fascinating and hardly talked about process began. Thanks, Dr. Satterwhite.

Steaks are not as safe as you'd think.  Whole cuts of meat have the same risk as ground meats of contamination by E. Coli, if they are mechanically tenderized.  What is "mechanical tenderization" or "blade tenderization"?  This means that the meat has been punctured by several blades or needles to break down the muscle fibers and make the meat more tender and easier to chew.  It also means that if E. Coli and other harmful bacteria are present on the surface, are driven into the meat.  So cooking the meat to internal temperatures under 160 degrees will not kill the harmful bacteria and could make us sick.  That means rare (130-140 degrees), medium rare (145 degrees) and medium (160 degrees) steaks could make us ill, and a piece of blade tenderized meat is only safe if its cooked to well done.  

Whole cuts that are not blade tenderized have a lower risk of contamination, as the bacteria on the surface are destroyed through the cooking process. 

The National Cattleman's Beef Association and the American Meat Institute have recognized this for over a decade and have put out notices for "Best Practices: Pathogen Control During Tenderizing/Enhancing of Whole Meat Cuts" which recognize the risk of these meats not being cooked to 160 degrees.  But nothing in my grocery store tells me any of this.  

Costco has been labeling its meat labels with "blade tenderized" since 2012 after an outbreak of E. Coli was linked to it's mechanically tenderized meat in Canada. It's in tiny print on the label and the cooking temperatures are also not easily seen.  

And finally, starting in June 2016, USDA has required that meats that have been mechanically tenderized be labeled and safe cooking instructions and temperatures should follow the statement on the label.   The label should read "Blade Tenderized" and that it be cooked to an internal temperature above 160 degrees. My question is why wasn't this process banned? Why is it acceptable to increase the risk of illness from our food?  Isn't the mission of our food regulators to keep us safe and healthy and reduce food borne illnesses?  Personally, I'd like to know that all the meat I'm buying is as safe as it can possibly be.  I don't think it's acceptable for someone who likes their steak rare to have a greater risk of getting infected with E. Coli.  Especially when the contamination and illness is avoidable.

Is there an alternative to this madness that still produces a tender and delicious steak?  Of course there is.  But it takes time and care.  Dry aging has been around forever, it's not hard to do and it produces tender, delicious steaks.  I followed Alton Brown's method on Good Eats several years ago with great results.  I now get my meat directly from farmers who don't blade tenderize.  But I'm fortunate enough to have a great farmers market in my neighborhood. That's not how most of us shop.  Maybe it's time to demand better food safety for ourselves and our families by asking our grocery stores to give us safer, non blade-tenderized meats.  It's worth a try. Otherwise, we'll all need to eat our steaks well done.