THE ART OF ITALIAN DINING
I will be honest with you. There are only a few things in life better than porchetta and while many of these ‘few’ things are not suitable for a 10am TV show, porchetta is.
Porchetta, an obvious derivative of the word porco, “pork”, is nothing more than what it seems: a roasted pork cooked on a spit for hours at times to create this delicious, moist and flavorful treat available almost everywhere in Italy.
But this wonderful dish is, most importantly, the quintessential Italian street food- very rarely you can order it in a restaurant or eat it in a closed space. Porks are roasted in the open air at street fairs, or in the Italian equivalent of Taco Trucks outfitted for the specific purpose of transforming a pig in a delicious treat!
Pretty much every region in central Italy claims this dish as their own. There are Sagre della Porchetta in Umbria, Lazio, Abruzzo and as far North as Tuscany. In the area around Rome in May you can venture out to i Castelli and grab a porchetta sandwich from the street vendors before heading to one of the wine pits (choice of word is not casual!) where they only serve local wines. The history behind porchetta is long- it traces back to medieval times, but there is evidence that even Romans prepared porchetta very similarly to the way it’s done today. In fact the processing methods are even mentioned in some works by scholars and artists as far back as 400 BC and it was even said to be the favorite dish of Emperor Nero, who was very famous for his refined palate. As far back as Roman times, the preparation and seasoning of the pig, including slow roasting it on a spit over a wood burning fire has remained the same as today. Every place you’ll have it will claim it’s the real thing, and beware that if you’re sitting in the warmth of a restaurant and sitting down you are probably not getting the real gist of porchetta.
To make the original porchetta, you start with a big pig- some rule it should be at least 120kg, over 250lb! This is not a suckling pig we’re cooking, it’s the real thing! The pig is carefully a pig is deboned and dressed with abundant rosemary, fennel and garlic, and filled with its own offal minced. It is the cooked over a wood-burning flame for anywhere between 6 and 8 hours. By the time it is done, what really draws you in is the smell- the delicious aroma of porchetta can travel several miles and make you salivate before you even lay your eyes on the object of your desire! You don’t want to mess with porchetta: country bread, and a flask of wine are your only companion to experience this long-lasting Italian tradition!
Below I will give you two recipes. The original one which requires a bit more preparation and love but you need to experience at least once. The second one, a porchetta style tenderloin, which you can make anytime you would like. Leftovers? No worries, make a ‘salsa verde‘ and you can enjoy it sliced in a sandwich the day after.
Get down in the kitchen and Buon Appetito!
Roasting skin-on pork belly that’s been wrapped around a pork loin gives you the best of both worlds: crackling mahogany crust and juicy meat seasoned with fennel, chile, and orange. Start at least 24 hours ahead. First, ask your butcher for a skin-on pork belly that’s just long and wide enough to wrap around a trimmed, center-cut pork
1 5–6-pound piece fresh pork belly, skin on
• 1 (trimmed) 2–3-pound boneless, center-cut pork loin
• 3 tablespoons fennel seeds
• 2 tablespoons crushed red pepper flakes
• 2 tablespoons minced fresh sage
• 1 tablespoon minced fresh rosemary
• 3 garlic cloves, minced
• Kosher salt
• 1/2 orange, seeded, thinly sliced
Put belly skin side down; arrange loin in center. Roll belly around loin so the short ends of the belly meet. If any of the belly or loin overhangs, trim meat. Unroll; set loin aside.
Toast fennel seeds and red pepper flakes in a small skillet over medium heat until fragrant, about 1 minute. Tip spices into a bowl; let cool. Finely grind spices in a spice mill and transfer to a small bowl, along with the sage, rosemary, and garlic; set fennel mixture aside.
Assemble porchetta according to steps 1-5.
Refrigerate roast, uncovered, for 1–2 days to allow skin to air-dry; pat occasionally with paper towels.
Let porchetta sit at room temperature for 2 hours. Preheat oven to 500°F. Season porchetta with salt. Roast on rack in baking sheet, turning once, for 40 minutes. Reduce heat to 300°F and continue roasting, rotating the pan and turning porchetta occasionally, until an instant-read thermometer inserted into center of meat registers 145°F, 1 1/2–2 hours more. If skin is not yet deep brown and crisp, increase heat to 500°F and roast for 10 minutes more. Let rest for 30 minutes. Using a serrated knife, slice into 1/2″ rounds.
1. Set belly skin side down. Using a knife, score the belly flesh in a checkerboard pattern 1/3″ deep so roast will cook evenly.
2. Flip belly skin side up. Using a paring knife, poke dozens of 1/8″-deep holes through skin all over belly. Don’t be gentle! Keep poking.
3. Using the jagged edge of a meat mallet, pound skin all over for 3 minutes to tenderize, which will help make skin crispy when roasted.
4. Turn belly and generously salt both it and loin; rub both with fennel mixture. Arrange loin down middle of belly. Top with orange slices.
5. Roll belly around loin; tie crosswise with kitchen twine at 1/2″ intervals. Trim twine. Transfer roast to a wire rack set in a rimmed baking sheet.
ARROSTO INPORCHETTATO – PORCHETTA STYLE ROAST
Prepare the roast one to two days before you want to cook the porchetta.
Mix the seasoning: Combine all the spices in a small bowl.
Prepare the meat: Trim the pork belly so that it is roughly the same width as the pork loin is long. The belly should be long enough to wrap around the pork loin once.
Place the tenderloin on parchment paper–lined baking sheet; with a small knife make 2 or 3 small sockets in the pork where you will be sliding in the garlic cloves (see video). Then rub the entire seasoning mix on the outside of the pork loin. Now, wrap the tenderloin with pancetta (or bacon), overlapping slice and as tight as you can. Place a spring of rosemary on top and using butcher’s twine, tie up the roast at 2-inch intervals. Wrap the porchetta in plastic wrap, and let it start getting delicious in the refrigerator for two days.
Roast: When you are ready to roast, let the porchetta, come to room temperature for about two hours. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Season the outside of the porchetta with a little bit of salt and black pepper and place on a rack in a roasting pan. Drizzle with olive oil and roast for about 30 minutes or when the instant thermometer will read a temperature between 130-140F. The juices run clear when pierced and it is just a little bit pink inside.
Remove from the oven and allow it to rest on cooling rack at least 5 minutes before carving. Meanwhile, make the sauce.
Make the sauce: Stir the wine into the roasting pan and place on the stovetop over high heat. Scrape up all the good brown bits and transfer the liquid to a saucepan. Add the stock and cook down until a light sauce consistency is reached.
Swirl in the cold butter and add salt and pepper as needed.
To serve: Slice the roast and serve with the sauce.
CANNELLINI ALL’OLIO – CANNELLINI BEANS WITH EVOO
Place beans in large bowl. Cover with cold water (at least 6 cups) and let soak overnight.
Drain beans. Place in heavy large pot. Add 8 cups room-temperature water, 2 tablespoons olive oil, garlic, sage, and black peppercorns. Bring to simmer over medium-high heat. Reduce heat to mediumlow; simmer uncovered 1 1/2 hours, stirring occasionally. Mix in 1 teaspoon coarse salt. Continue to simmer until beans are tender, adding more water if needed to keep beans covered, about 30 minutes longer. Cool beans in liquid 1 hour.
Using slotted spoon, transfer beans to serving bowl, reserving bean cooking liquid, if desired, but discarding garlic, sage, and peppercorns. Season beans to taste with pepper and more coarse salt. Drizzle with extra-virgin olive oil and serve.
Note: you can also make a trio of beans using Borlotti beans, Cannellini and Butter beans.