Sunday, 28 April 2013


Porchetta is no pig-on-a-stick (also known as the good old British hog-roast drying out over a summer barbeque): it's a completely different animal. Porchetta (stuffed, young, tender, whole, Italian roast pig) is often to be found in special vans which tour round the medieval market towns of Umbria and Tuscany.  The smell of roasting pork, fennel, rosemary, garlic and lemon quickly draws crowds, who queue up for fresh chewy rolls filled with tender, succulent slices of herb-stuffed pork.
You don't have to go the whole hog however to make something equally delicious at home, either as a conventional roast or to stuff rolls in the traditional, Italian manner.

The Pork:
Ideally it should be organic and of the best possible quality. You will need a plump tenderloin and a slab of boned belly large enough to wrap around the tenderloin to make a thick log.  A good butcher will help you to find pieces that make a good match (he may even give you some red/white butcher's twine to tie up the joint; otherwise you will need some twine).  Two to three kilos (belly and tenderloin combined) will serve 4, with plenty left over for snacks later.  Score the skin side to create diamonds to encourage the best crackling.
The Salt Rub:
1/4 cup sea salt
2 teaspoons rosemary leaves peeled from the stem, 
dry fried over a medium heat for a couple of minutes, then roughly chopped
2 teaspoons fennel seeds, roughly crushed
2 teaspoons chilli flakes (Turkish pepper flakes are good; a blend of pul biber and isot pul biber)
2 teaspoons black pepper, roughly crushed
zest of 1 lemon

sage leaves, chopped
Combine the salt rub ingredients. Make incisions in the fleshy side of the belly to help the salt rub penetrate and do its work; massage it into the pork, reserving some to rub on the skin side later.
The Herb Mix:
2 tbsp parsley
1 tbsp sage leaves
2 tbsp fresh rosemary leaves
1 tbsp thyme
1 clove of garlic
( a few fronds of fennel also go well in this mix)
Blend the herb mix ingredients in a food processor to a rough mix.  Then spread this on top of the pork belly (flesh side up), ensuring an even covering over the salt rub.  Lay the tenderloin along the middle of the belly.
Cut several (six is usually enough) lengths of twine and stretch them out underneath the pork belly at regular intervals. Wrap the belly up around the tenderloin, pulling up the twine and tying it tightly. Rub the skin with olive oil and the remaining salt rub, working it into the incisions.  Place the porchetta into a plastic container with a lid, cover and keep in the fridge overnight (for at least 12 hours and up to 24 hours) to allow the flavours to develop and the salt to tenderise the meat. 
Take the pork out of the fridge some two hours before you want to cook, removing it from the container and pouring away the juices that have emerged.  Place the meat on a plate to air and come up to room temperature. 
The secret to porchetta's moistness is long, slow cooking.  Pre-heat the oven to a cool 140C (275F).  Place the pork on a rack in a deep oven pan, as a lot of fat will be rendered out.  Place the pan in the middle of the oven and roast for four hours - turn the pan occasionally to ensure even cooking.  After four hours increase the heat to 230C (450F) for roughly 35 minutes to crisp up the crackling, checking from time to time to avoid burning. 
When done, remove the pork from the oven and allow to relax for 20 minutes before carving.  Use this time to make the salsa verde.

Salsa Verde:
1 large bunch parsley
1 cup olive oil
2 tsps toasted fennel seeds

2 tsps toasted coriander ground
2 tsps chili flakes (or Turkish pepper flakes, pul biber)
salt to taste
2 cloves garlic, peeled
zest of 1 lemon
juice from 2 lemons

Place all ingredients in the food processor and puree until quite smooth.  Taste and adjust to suit: it should be a fresh, zingy and bright green sauce.


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