Fennel & Cacao Nib Pork Chops with Caponata

From Ainsley’s Good Mood Food, ITV

Caponata is a Sicilian vegetable dish a little like ratatouille – it has delicious sweet and sour notes and is wonderful served on bruschetta. Here I’m serving it as a tasty side and I’ve added fennel and a hint of chocolate which works so well with my fennel & cacao rubbed pork. This is a great recipe for alfresco dining because the caponata can be made ahead of time – it always tastes better the next day and is at its best when served at room temperature.


Put the cacao nibs and fennel seeds in a mortar and pestle and pound until coarsely ground. Add the sugar, chilli flakes and orange zest and continue to grind until combined.

Place the pork in a shallow dish and rub all over with the spice mix, ensuring they are well coated. Cover and chill to marinate for 2 hours or longer if you have the time. Remove from the fridge 30 minutes before cooking.

Toast the pine nuts in a dry frying pan. Keep an eye on them because they can easily burn. Set aside.

Meanwhile make the caponata. Put the aubergine and courgette in separate sections in a colander or sieve over a bowl and sprinkle over the salt. Set aside for 30 minutes and then pat the vegetables dry with kitchen paper.

Heat the sunflower oil in a large deep-sided frying pan with a lid over a high heat. When hot add the aubergine and shallow fry until golden. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on kitchen paper. Repeat with the courgette, adding a little more oil if needed.

Wipe the frying pan clean and add the olive oil over a low-medium heat. Cook the onion, fennel and celery with a small pinch of salt for 6-8 minutes until soft and just starting to colour. Add the garlic and cook for 30 seconds. Increase the heat to medium before stirring in the passata. Cook for 3-4 minutes.

Add the sugar and vinegar and bring to the boil, Stir in the capers, olives and sultanas. Season, turn the heat down to the lowest setting, add the fried vegetables, cover and simmer gently for 15-20 minutes, stirring occasionally, then stir in the chocolate until it has melted.

Remove from the heat and allow to cool to room temperature, check the seasoning and stir through the three quarters of the pine nuts and the mint.

Preheat a barbecue or a griddle over a high heat.

Drizzle the pork chops with a little oil and season with salt. Sear each side of the pork for 1-2 minute over a high heat, then move to a cooler section of the barbecue (or reduce the heat to medium) and continue to cook for 6-8 minutes on each side or until cooked through, depending on the size of your pork chops and the heat of your barbecue. Allow the chops to rest for 5 minutes before serving

Serve the pork chops with the caponata on the side garnished with the remaining pine nuts and the parsley. Serve with a handful of fresh peppery rocket.



  • For the Pork
  • 1 tbsp cacao nibs
  • 1 tbsp fennel seeds
  • 1 tbsp demerara sugar
  • pinch of chilli flakes
  • zest of ½ orange
  • 4 x 1 inch bone-in pork chops
  • For the Caponata
  • 2 tbsp pine nuts
  • 1 aubergine, cut into 2cm chunks
  • 1 small fennel bulb, cut into 2cm chunks
  • 1 large courgette, cut into 2cm chunks
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 100ml sunflower or vegetable oil, more if needed
  • 3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil, plus extra for drizzling
  • 1 red onion, peeled and chopped
  • 2 sticks of celery, chopped
  • 2 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 2 tsp capers, rinsed
  • 8-10 green olives, stoned and cut in half
  • 20g sultanas
  • 1 tbsp caster sugar
  • 150ml passata
  • 50ml red wine vinegar
  • 1 tbsp grated good quality dark chocolate (min 70% solids)
  • 2 tbsp roughly chopped fresh mint
  • 1 tbsp chopped parsley
  • To Serve
  • handful of fresh rocket