I think the days of me making elaborate dinners is over for a while. I just don't have the time luxury anymore to plan, create and prepare food like I used to. I even resort to prepared frozen kid's dinners, frozen chicken nuggets and Spaghetti-O's way more than I'd like to admit, and I never used to buy that crap. This is what having a fussy 2 year old, a home business and a dog with special needs does to your schedule. I know some day I'll be back in "gourmet mode." Just not this year.
Like a lot of people, I have a well stocked freezer. Meat, fish, veggies, herbs, homemade stock. Leftovers that I save for those times I need a fast dinner but never end up using. Once in a while things get pretty cramped in there, so I go on a mission to use the stuff up. Last night I pulled out a package of country pork chops.
I needed something that I could stuff in the oven and forget about. Traditional baked chops are always good, but then you need to make a side. So I opted for a one dish meal. But the chops I wanted to bake slow and low. What vegetable can stand up to that without being wrecked? Fennel! Fennel is awesome when slow roasted and would make a delicious ragout (think bouillabaisse). It gets sweet and buttery and I think it would be perfect. I had a large bulb in the fridge, so I sliced it, white and green parts, and put it into a casserole dish.
Next I added a few strands of saffron. Then a can of tomatoes. (I was only cooking for 2 btw). Salt & pepper to taste.
For added flavor, I finely diced one celery stalk and 1/4 of an onion and mixed it in with the tomatoes. Small dices though, I wanted the fennel to be the star of the show and not have other vegetable textures mixed in. By dicing them really small they will just melt away.
Frozen chops. I don't bother defrosting them for something like this. I do the same for my roasted chickens. Put them in frozen. They turn out just fine, you'll never know the difference.
The chops were added on top of the ragout, salted, then I added about 2 cups of semi-thawed homemade chicken stock. The pieces you see on top are chopped dehydrated garlic. It's one of my favorite new ingredients. I think they toast it lightly or something. The flavor is delicious, and tastes very fresh! I never do garlic in a jar though. I hate that stuff in it's "citrus" juice. Gross.
Let's see... I cooked this for about 2 hours. I turned it on 350 for about 30 minutes to defrost the chops. Then I bumped it to 425 for another 20 or so minutes until they were browned a little bit ... then dropped the heat back down to 325 for the rest of the time until they looked like this.
The chops were tender, and since they sat above the ragout, the fat around the edges was able to get brown and super yummy. The fennel was absolutely delicious, and the broth.... well.... fennel, tomatoes and saffron. What can I say. I could have bathed in it.