Early summer in Italy is always magical.There are nectarine colored sunsets, lazy nights, drinking Prosecco in outdoor cafes. and the aroma of food, ever present. It is also the time of food festivals throughout the Republic , where natives and tourists can sample the most delicious street fare. One of them, porchetta, is being celebrated right now.
Julia Moskin not only got to write about it in today's New York Times Food section but also got to visit Umbria where the festival is held and savored this most amazing dish.Porchetta originated in Rome but is also found in other regions throughout Italy and on the island of Sardinia. It is a popular dish , usually sold at Italian street fairs or sagras. Porchetta is almost a religion, going deep both in the Umbrian heritage and psyche,A new meat supplier there, Etrusco is producing the meat used for it the way it was produced during an earlier generation's day with bigger than average pigs and cows.This means larger cuts with a more flavorful taste.Etrusco's founder ,Valentino Gerbi who is also a butcher, believes in embracing the peasant traditions of "no compromises , no shortcuts" as he puts it. Many other farmers are also following suite.The pigs are grazing out doors, eating corn and barley instead of bone meal along with taking no antibiotics or supplements avers another farmer, Ramon Rustico.He also states that people want to eat cebu vero - real food that is hearty and satisifying both in taste and proportion.. The pigs, used for porchetta are descended from the British strain ,Large White. They're known for their particularly large and muscular legs which are used in making prosciutto.
What is porchetta exactly?. It is a deboned and gutted pig that has been stuffed with garlic and herbs.It is then roasted in its' skin until it is crunchy , juicy and , as Ms, Moskin puts it, insanely aromatic.The dish is not for the squeamish or animal lovers.The head is left on,which gives it the appearance of a pig in a brown sleeping bag.It is then sliced and either stuffed into crusty rolls or between slabs of equally aromatic foccaccia. Every slice is magical, with spirals of tender meat, lush fat and crunchy cracklings.The goal of eating it is to get all three textures in every bite.Most Italians use shallots and garlic along with salt and pepper. It's finished with a golden dusting of fennel pollen. Porchetta can be made in an American kitchen.It is labor intensive because all the bones (namely about 200 of them, with just 32 for the ribs) have to be removed. Home chef's don't need any surgical skills, just patience, and possibly help doing this.Ms. Moskin gives a recipe that is relatively easy to follow. She uses the easier to handle whole bone on with skin pork shoulder..It does call for fennel pollen which is easy to get over the internet and at some specialty stores.(although it grows wild in Northern California so it's easy to harvest and bring home).If not, use minced fresh rosemary and garlic for flavoring. Serve on focaccia or better yet, kaiser rolls.
Porchetta is one of those heavenly Italian creations that leave foodies and gourmands wanting more. It is easy to replicate that blend of crunch , juice and aroma. Make it , instead of barbecue for a true taste of Italy in early summer.