Spring is here and I’m so tempted to throw my wool coat into the back of my wardrobe and pretend it doesn’t exist for the next six months. Unfortunately that’s not how things work here in country Tuscany. Giulio still wraps his scarf 40 times around his neck and pulls on his own wool coat every time he has to go from the front door to his car. It’s not so much Siberia over here as a Siberia state of mind. Someone somewhere once decreed that winter ends on March 20 and so it shall be until the end of time, global warming be damned.
But since the weather is so mild, I decided I would fire up our wood fire oven and smoke out all our closest neighbours. Don’t worry, this isn’t like the TV show Neighbours. Our neighbours hate us because we have the only private parking space for miles, so I don’t feel guilty about blowing smoke (literally) into their kitchen windows.
Since we’re in Tuscany and it’s spring, I enlisted Giulio to prepare his patent-pending porchetta recipe. When I first arrived in Tuscany, I went bananas for porchetta. If you’ve never had it before, it’s a cold pork roast with crackling, stuffed with fennel and bay leaves and more black pepper than you’ve ever seen in your life. Since Italians are eternal gluttons, they add pork liver to the stuffing for a Sunday-roast-meets-pate party!
By the way, when we went to collect the wood for the wood-fired oven, we ran into these guys! Vacche Maremmane or Maremman cattle. They graze in the wild and are mostly used for steak, but they’re an increasingly rare sight since most locals think they’re too gamey to eat! I don’t feel too bad about mentioning them in this post since this is a pork recipe not beef!
Anyway, back to my porchetta. I used to eat this stuff by the kilo – a few thick slices in a roll was my idea of heaven. Then I got sick of it – too much of a good thing and all that. I’ve only just started getting back into it and I prefer Giulio’s homemade version to the one you buy from the shops. The shop-bought stuff always has a rubbery crackle and, as any Australian will tell you, the crackling or crispy pork skin is the best part!
To make porchetta the traditional Italian way, you need an entire pig and a day you don’t mind spending glued to a spit roast constantly turning said pig as it roasts. For this recipe, Giulio’s uses pork belly, which has the perfect mix of fat and meat. He stuffs it with freshly ground black pepper, bay leaves (from our garden !!), rosemary, fennel seeds and salt, before rather inelegantly rolling it up with kitchen string. On a Saturday afternoon in a wood-fired oven or on the barbecue, it’s going to take about 2 hours, but you can just as easily chuck it in a low oven for three hours before giving it a hit of heat at the end to crisp up the skin.
Whenever we make pork roast, I can’t help but laugh at Giulio. He hates “smelly” foods, so whenever I open the oven to check how the meat is roasting, he runs a mile to escape the billowing smoke, then opens every door/window he can find. It’s one of the real reasons why we bought a wood-fired oven! So I can roast in peace.
As for the filling for this porchetta, you really want to overdo it. It’s what gives the dish its spicy, rich, Tuscan bite. Plus it keeps the meat from drying out. So does a drizzle of white wine in the pan… but that’s our little secret.
You can most definitely slice this up, pile it up in a crusty roll with tomato chutney and have a lunch that would make all the girls and boys jealous, but I’ve serving it with a really simple braised cabbage. I hate cabbage in all forms par this one. It’s from my father’s side of the family – Austrian masquerading as Venetian. It’s boozy, buttery and satisfying in all the right places and cuts through the fattiness of the pork. Enjoy!
Porchetta (Tuscan rolled pork roast) with braised cabbage
500g pork belly
freshly ground black pepper, bay leaves, rosemary sprigs and fennel seeds, for the stuffing
1 cup white wine
kitchen string, for tying
For the braised cabbage:
250g cabbage, thinly sliced
30g unsalted butter
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
2-3 slices of pancetta, cubed
1/2 cup white wine
Score the skin of your pork belly with long diagonal streaks. Don’t cut all the way through the meat, just the skin and fat. Rub in a thick layer of sea salt and leave in the fridge for 30 minutes. This helps to remove any excess moisture and makes for optimal crackling. The time inside the fridge depends on how efficiently working your fridge is. If the refrigerator is in need of a fridge door seal replacement, then the time may exceed 30 minutes.
Preheat oven to 130°C. Remove salt from the skin with a paper towel and dry well. Flip your belly over and season the meat with as much black pepper, bay leaves, rosemary and fennel seeds as it can take. Season with sea salt and roll the belly as tightly as possible. Secure with kitchen string and place on a roasting rack. Place the rack in a roasting tin, pour the white wine into the base and roast for 2 hours or until the meat is tender and juicy! Increase the oven temperature to 200°C and roast for 15-20 minutes to crispen the skin, be sure to rotate the meat or you’ll only have one side of crackling! Remove from the oven and rest on a carving board, covered with foil, for 20 minutes.
Meanwhile to prepare your cabbage. Melt the butter in a frying pan over medium heat. Add the pancetta cubes and fennel seeds and cook for 2-3 minutes or until the pancetta is crisp. Add your cabbage and cook, stirring, until it starts to wilt, then pour in your wine and cook until all the liquid has evaporated (5 minutes). Season with salt and pepper and serve along thick slices of your porchetta, minus the kitchen string, naturally.
Pork. Fork. Now. Have a gorgeous and delicious week! xx