Before porchetta became a food craze served out of food trucks it was a regional dish made by farmers “nose to tail” style, all parts of the pig being used. A few years ago I was fortunate enough to attend a salumi course in Italy and watch master “norcini” butcher pigs so elegantly I can only describe it as balletic. Here Franco Taruschio describes in his divine “Leaves from the Walnut Tree” book to take us back to what was.
“Porchetta is the diminutive of porco, meaning pig. A porchetta is a pig which is halfway between a full grown pig and a suckling pig. In the area around Macerata on the east coast of central Italy, where this dish comes from, you can buy porchetta in every village and town. It is made for robust people, not weight watchers! The aroma of the garlic and herbs as the hot crackling pig is put on the wooden tables in the butcher’s shops is very tempting. Generally porchetta is eaten with unsalted bread. The farmers still keep their outside ovens to cook their porchettas in on special feast days. they stuff them with a certain type of wild fennel, the provenenance of which is a feverishly guarded secret.”
Franco’s recipe is for a whole small pig and his stuffing involves the loin and also the liver – a variation I would like to try. My recipe involves plenty of garlic and aromatics and generally yields that all important crispy crackling. I cannot stress enough that the porchetta will only taste great if you buy the best meat possible no matter what fancypants herbs and garlic overload you use. I use Marius in Obor or Andu Macelarie and dream of a Mangalita version from my friend Andras’ “Carne de Vanat”. Ask for “piept de porc degresat cu muschi cu sorici”. I generally do not bother making a small porchetta but am pretty sure this would work well for a smaller piece of pork , a pork roast at home.
1 pork loin with enough pork belly left on to ensure a good roll and enough fat – this will be between 12-16kgs in my experience and serve up theory (after shrinkage in cooking) some 40 slices…except it is very very moreish.
2-3 oranges sliced into discs (skin removed)
a generous handful of fresh thyme (leaves removed from the stalks)
a generous handful of fresh rosemary (leaves removed from the stalks)
a handful of fennel seeds, unless you have wild fennel fronds in which case use
4 heads of garlic – pureed
salt and pepper
Make the puree. Sometimes if I remember I add some orange zest from the oranges too. Massage it into the meat.
Sprinkle herbs and aromatics liberally over and season with salt and pepper
Place the oranges in a line down the middle (here I would add chopped liver too if using)
Roll up and tie with butchers string. Helps to have a friend around especially if you are small.
Roast at 240C for 1 hour and then 180C for 3 hours
How to eat
The meat is best eaten warm, when rested an hour or so after being cooked, but it also re-heats very well too.
With food this good any messing around simply misses the point. What is needed is good bread and a refreshing beer. Sauces are allowed tho (think harissa, chutney and even mayo). I quite like the sound of the gremolata mentioned in this Saveur article http://www.saveur.com/article/Recipes/Porchetta-Sandwich
Impossibly moreish little pancakes made from sweet cheese, known as “Syrniki” in Ukraine, Russia, Belarussia, Latvia, Lithuania , Slovenia and “Nalangate” in Romania and traditionally served with sour cream and jam. Olia Hercules in Mamushka goes for maple syrup with her nostalgia fix. I made a savoury version and gave them a little oomph with parmesan. Try them as party nibbles or as a magnificent grounding for a poached egg smothered in hollandaise sauce although your Eggs Benedict might never be the same again. For those folks concerned about such things, these are high protein and almost zero carbohydrate.
I actually discovered these gems earlier this summer when thinking what to do with a surfeit of goat ricotta from Ioana and Mihai Preotescu (oh the suffering) and improvised mixing leftover ricotta, eggs, a pinch of nutmeg and a smidgen of flour. It is worth being daring with just the smallest hint of flour for fluffier pancakes result. And about that cheese….high quality full fat cheese with a high protein content will give you the best tasting pancakes with great mouth feel and texture. Cheap, watery low fat cheese will give you…well… lets just not shall we.
500g good quality ricotta or sweet cheese “branza dulce”
75g grated parmesan (omit for the sweet ones)
1 heaped tablespoon of flour
Fresh herbs: a choice of chives or spring onions, dill, basil, mint, chervil, parsley
salt, pepper, nutmeg for savoury version, sugar if you must for sweet versions
Mix ingredients together in a bowl with a fork.
The mixture should be fairly thick.
Prepare a frying pan by lightly oiling. I fry on a medium high heat. Drop spoonfuls into the pan, flip over when solidified on one side and golden.
Best eaten warm.
This is a sublime pesto all vibrant, pungent and aromatic. It marries gloriously with “Urda gnocchi” and equally is delicious slathered on rye & seed crackers. Its excellent as a pasta sauce – add chopped green beans or chunks of pre-roasted eggplant for fabulously tasty vegetarian main courses and a personal fave…use as a sauce for grilled halloumi. As the first green wild garlic shoots appear in the woods in Spring, grab them and make something to wipe away dark winter memories.
50-100g fresh wild garlic (including stalks)
50g parsley (counters the effects of the garlic and adds yet more chlorophyll)
40g walnuts or almonds
25g parmesan – cubed (optional – not a disaster if you do not add parmesan)
2 garlic cloves (excessive but good)
85ml of Extra Virgin Olive Oil
The zest of 1 lemon 9I think the lemon is quite important to the taste – try not to omit)
Salt and pepper
Equipment: a blender, food processor or stick blender
- Put all the ingredients except the olive oil into your blender
- Whiz together and with the motor still running, pour the oil in until the pesto thickens. You may need to press down on the leaves to make sure they are processed.
- Store in a clean jar in the fridge covered with a layer of oil to prevent it drying out and oxidizing.