Porchetta is an Italian classic that dates back to Roman times. It is a young pig that is deboned, stuffed with herbs and seasonings and spit roasted over a wood fire until its crackling skin is a deep mahogany color. If you have traveled in central Italy anywhere from Tuscany to south of Rome, you have probably tasted this rich and succulent pork. It is sold from porchetta stands and customized little white trucks at street fairs and feasts, open air markets, sporting events and even alongside roads.
I have made my version of porchetta that doesn’t require a whole pig, a large spit or an open wood fire. It doesn’t even require a small suckling pig or commercial oven. All you need is a pork loin and your regular home oven. Now I know what you must be thinking…that using a pork loin means a bland, tough and dry piece of pork but that is not the case with this recipe. Instead you are going to end up with a delicious and moist pork roast that is scented with fennel, sage, rosemary, thyme and garlic.
My porchetta recipe takes some advance planning as I want you to brine the meat to ensure that the pork is tender and moist. It will then be stuffed with a herb and pork belly paste, rolled and refrigerated for 24 hours so that the flavors penetrate the meat.
This recipe will serve 8 or more.
- 6 1/2 lb. pork loin, butterflied into a rectangle about 1 inch thick*
- 3 Tbsp. fennel seeds, toasted
- 1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes
- 2 tsp. black pepper
- 5 garlic cloves, chopped
- 2 Tbsp. chopped fresh sage
- 1 Tbsp. chopped fresh rosemary
- 1 Tbsp. fresh thyme leaves
- 1 c. diced salt pork belly, any rind removed (sometimes called salt pork)**
- garlic powder, onion powder, salt and pepper
- olive oil
* I told my butcher that I was going to be making a pork roll and asked him if he would butterfly the loin. He sliced, continuing to roll the meat until it was a large rectangle about an inch thick. Make friends with your butcher…and always be sure to thank him.
**You may question the amount of pork belly, but this is what is going to keep the loin moist. As the loin cooks, the fat melts, bastes the meat and runs out.
Make A brine with 4 Tbsp. each of kosher salt and sugar mixed with 2 cups of boiling water, let cool then add enough water that will completely cover the roast (about 8 cups, depending on the size of the container). Place butterflied pork roast in a large container (I used a large oven roaster) and pour the cooled brining liquid over it, adding additional water, if necessary to totally cover the pork. Cover and refrigerate for at least 4 hours.
In the meantime, place the fennel in a spice grinder and grind to a powder. Place the fennel powder in a processor along with the red pepper flakes, black pepper, garlic, sage, rosemary and thyme then process until chopped fine. Add the diced salt pork belly to the mixture and process until a paste is formed (will look like soft butter). Refrigerate until ready to use.
Drain the pork loin, rinse and dry well. Lay the rectangle out and spread the herb paste evenly over the loin. Roll the loin from the short side tightly back into its original shape and tie with cooking twine every inch. Season the entire outside of the loin generously with garlic powder, onion powder, salt and pepper. Wrap well in plastic wrap, then foil and refrigerate for 24 hours.
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.
Let the pork come to room temperature before roasting (about 2 hrs.). Unwrap the loin, pat dry and rub generously with oil. Place the loin on a roasting rack in a roasting pan with about two inches of water (to eliminate smoke). Place in the hot oven for 15 minutes, then turn the heat down to 325 degrees and roast about 20 minutes per pound until a meat thermometer registers 135 degrees. Remove from the oven, tent with foil and let rest for at least 30 minutes. The temperature will continue to rise as it rests.
If you would like a natural gravy (which I would suggest), add 1 c. of white wine and deglaze the drippings in the roasting pan, scraping up all the brown bits. Pour into a gravy separator and let the fat rise. Pour the juices into a sauté pan and add half an onion chopped, 2 garlic cloves, 4 c. of beef broth, and 2 Tbsp. of balsamic vinegar and simmer for 10 minutes. Strain the sauce and return to the pan. Make a slurry with 1 Tbsp. of flour and 3 Tbsp. of water and add to the sauce. Season with garlic powder, onion powder, salt and pepper to taste. Simmer until reduced to the desired consistency.
I think that once you have tasted this Italian classic, porchetta will become one of your favorite recipes, especially when entertaining. Depending on the season, sautéed greens, roasted peppers, or a green salad would go nicely with the pork. I had a casual dinner with friends recently and served roasted sliced potatoes with onions along with roasted asparagus topped with shaved Pecorino Romano cheese. The meal got rave reviews, as I sure your guests will be giving you when you prepare this flavorful Italian meal.