I let my husband choose the next recipe from The List, and he chose porchetta, a savoury pork dish which we both fell in love with during our recent trip to Italy. In Florence especially we devoured countless incredible sandwiches filled with all manner of wonderful, fresh ingredients: salami, fresh mozzarella, basil, or (our favourite) warm, savoury sliced porchetta that needed no garnish other than two pieces of crusty, chewy bread to hold it together.
Research told me that real porchetta is essentially a whole boneless suckling pig roasted in a wood-burning stove or oven, complete with crackling skin and stuffed with its own innards… while the thought of eating that appeals to me greatly, the thought of making it at home seems a tad out of reach.
I turned to my dear friend Mario Batali, specifically his fabulous cookbook Molto Italiano. I have made many delightful recipes from this thick volume, and happened upon his recipe for Arista alla Porchetta, a hybrid of traditional porchetta and a Tuscan dish called arista, which is a pork roast “studded with garlic and rosemary and spit-roasted over hot coals.” He claims that this marriage of two dishes “is a lot easier than either, with all the tasty flavours from both.” Sounds good to me.
Pork and fennel are the stars of the show, and both ingredients are featured in multiple ways. The primary ingredient is a lean butterflied pork loin, its delicate flavour enhanced by stuffing it with a mouth-watering ground pork filling. Fennel pops up in every part of the dish: its seeds, bulb and fronds flavour the filling, its bulb is roasted under the loin (joined by potato chunks and garlic), and fresh fronds are used to garnish the finished dish.
The filling ends up tasting like a really great breakfast sausage, with softened shredded onions and fennel, herbs, and bread crumbs and eggs to hold it together. Depending on the size of pork loin you can find, you may have extra filling that won’t fit no matter how tightly you stuff it. I certainly did, so I formed the remaining filling into patties and fried them for a couple of minutes per side, giving us protein for the following morning’s breakfast. Waste not, want not, I guess!
I recommend eating the pork immediately after making it, while it’s still warm and juicy, or else chilling it in the refrigerator and slicing it thin for sandwiches. Lean pork must be cooked just perfectly and, in my opinion, doesn’t reheat well as it can become quite dry. However, fresh from the oven (and after a good 10 minute rest), it is succulent and tender. Next-day sandwiches are wonderful as well, simply stuffed between some good crusty bread and whatever condiments and/or greens suit your taste.
While I must admit this was not the porchetta of my dreams, it was still immensely satisfying and something I will make again. Next time, I might try wrapping the roast in bacon or prosciutto to try and replicate the taste and texture of the roasted skin on genuine porchetta. If all else fails, I suppose we’ll just have to return to Florence to satisfy our craving. Come to think of it, that isn’t a bad idea.
- ¼ cup olive oil
- 1 small onion, thinly sliced
- 1 fennel bulb, trimmed and thinly sliced, fronds reserved and chopped
- ⅕ lbs. lean ground pork
- 1 tablespoon fennel seeds
- 2 T chopped fresh rosemary
- 2 cloves garlic, chopped
- ¾ cup fresh bread crumbs
- 2 large eggs
- One 3-4 lb. pork loin, butterflied
- Salt & pepper to taste
- 4 red skinned-potatoes, cut into 1-inch chunks
- 1 fennel bulb, trimmed and cut into 1-inch chunks
- 6 whole cloves of garlic, peeled
- In a large skillet, heat ¼ cup olive oil until nearly smoking. Add sliced onion and fennel and cook until softened and beginning to turn golden brown, about 10 minutes.
- Add ground pork, fennel seeds, rosemary, chopped garlic and a few pinches of salt and pepper. Stir and cook until the pork is cooked through, about 10 minutes. Set aside to cool slightly.
- Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.
- Add all but 1 tablespoon of the reserved fennel fronds to the pork mixture, along with the bread crumbs and eggs. Stir gently to combine.
- Lay butterflied pork loin flat on a work surface and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Spread filling mixture over the loin. Roll up from the long side (like a jelly roll) and secure with twine or string. Reserve excess filling for another use (if necessary).
- Place potato and fennel chunks and garlic cloves in the bottom of a roasting pan and drizzle with remaining ¼ cup of olive oil. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Place roast on top of vegetables and transfer to oven. Roast for 1 hour 15 minutes, until internal temperature reaches 135 degrees F. Remove pork and set aside to rest for 10 minutes. While the pork is resting, put the pan back in the oven to allow the vegetables to continue roasting to a tender golden brown.
- Slice roast into ¾-inch pieces and serve with roasted vegetables, drizzling everything with pan juices. Garnish with remaining tablespoon of fennel fronds. Leftovers will keep covered in the refrigerator for 1-2 days (and make the BEST sandwiches).
Source: Adapted from Mario Batali’s Molto Italiano, but can also be found here: http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/mario-batali/arista-alla-porchetta-recipe.html