Keep the belly
By Letizia Mattiacci
his time of year we play the game "find five good reasons to live in the Umbrian countryside." Late winter can keep the list short, especially on weekends. Take last Sunday. Our choices were the umpteenth local children's Carnival parade or heading for the supermarket. We chose grocery shopping.
Monday is always a blessing since locals tend to emerge from their torpor. Last week we got a porchetta-making lesson from the Trabalza brothers, our fabulous butchers in Bastia Umbria.
No respected food blogger can be content just to buy a porchetta sandwich from a truck. After all, online "fame" brings obligations. The blogger must prepare for emergencies such as having to invite 20 friends for dinner and being able to ensure she's serving the best panino on the planet.
Making a whole porchetta means having considerable muscle power and a large oven, preferably the outdoor pizza kind. After which, if you're Danilo Trabalza, all you need a 15-kg (33-lb) porchetta cut. That monster feeds about 60 people. If you lack massive both muscle and meat mass you can always make a smaller porchetta using the skin-on portion of a center-cut pork loin (the belly should still attached).
When ordering the loin, make sure to ask the butcher to give you the leanest possible belly and wherever possible trim the belly fat to a 1-cm (1/2-inch) thick layer. Ideally, the butcher should also leave a 10-cm (4-inch) flap of skin around the belly, allowing you to encase the entire roast in skin.
Umbrian porchetta is always flavored with wild fennel fronds and black pepper, but rosemary, sage, chili pepper and lemon zest make a different but equally delicious roast.
Prepare the seasoning ingredients the day before the meal. Crush or grind the peppercorns and add salt. Chop the fennel fronds, or crush the fennel seeds, garlic cloves and juniper berries.
Place the meat on a large tray, skin side up, and pierce or score the skin with a sharp knife. If there's gristle, scrape it away with the blade. Rub the skin evenly with a third of the salt and pepper mixture.
Flip the meat, covering it completely with the salt and pepper and the remaining seasoning. Also scatter the fennel, garlic and juniper berries on the meat. With a sharp knife, prick it throughout to a depth of about 1/2 cm (1/4 inch) and press some of the spice rub into the holes.
Roll the porchetta, keeping the loin inside the pork belly. If you're using a separate loin, season both pieces first, then wrap the belly tightly around the loin. Sew or tie the roll firmly with kitchen string at 2 cm (1-inch) intervals. Cover with foil and refrigerate at least 24 hours.
The next day, let the porchetta sit at least two hours at room temperature before roasting.
Preheat oven to 230C (450F). Place the pork on a roasting rack in a heavy roasting pan. Fill the pan halfway up with water. Roast for 30 minutes until the skin starts to bubble and brown. Reduce the heat to 150C (300F) until an instant-read thermometer inserted into the center of the roast registers 75C (165F). This will take approximately 3 hours.
When the porchetta is cooked through at the center, increase the oven temperature to 250C (500F) to crisp up the skin. This should take between 20 and 30 minutes.
Remove the roast, cover with foil and let it sit for at least 30 minutes to an hour.
Remove the string, slice and serve with ciabatta buns or roast potatoes and steamed greens.
If the crispy skin is hard to slice, remove larger chunks and transfer them to another cutting board where you can chop them up to serve alongside the sliced roast.
Call lots of friends. This recipe makes enough porchetta for 20 sandwiches. Pour copious amounts of wine to keep Sunday boredom at bay, preferably for a year.
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