My last few posts have been pretty much dedicated to dishes served over the Holidays. Today’s recipe, Porchetta con Finnocchio, is yet another of those dishes and was served not just around Christmas but whenever there was reason to celebrate. Similar in preparation to most pork roasts, this roast differs because of the cut of meat used and for the use of fennel, finnocchio, as seasoning.
Traditionally, porchetta meant the roasting of an entire pig. In fact, one such pig was roasted at a neighborhood bakery and served at the wedding reception of Zia & Uncle. (Imagine a time when “A”, there were neighborhood bakeries and, “B”, you could use their oven to roast a pig!) Now, that may be fine when feeding large groups but, for most families, a pig roast is out of the question. My family, like many, used the pig’s foreleg, the picnic ham, for the roast. The meat was butterflied, removing the bone in the process, and then heavily seasoned with, among other things, fennel fronds which are similar to dill in both appearance and taste. The result was a juicy roast, with herbal flavoring throughout. Times have changed and picnic hams aren’t as readily available as they once were. My family switched to roasting bone-in pork loins initially but, as time passed, they, too, became less available and we began roasting boneless pork loins. Although still very good, the loin is a lean cut of meat and some will forever favor a porchetta made using picnic ham over one made with pork loin. In a future post, I’ll share a recipe for porchetta using a pork loin but, for today, we’re once again turning back the clock to roast a leg of pork.
This recipe differs from that used by my family in a couple of ways. First off, I wanted to make sure that I had a sauce to serve with my porchetta. To that end, I include roasting vegetables in the pan, adding stock & wine as a basting liquid. I, also, love roasted vegetables and add potatoes and carrots to the roasting pan about an hour after the roasting has begun. In contrast, the most my family put in the roasting pan was a few potatoes, and even that was a rarity. As a result, I don’t remember Mom ever serving a sauce with her porchetta. Lastly, and this is a big one, relatively speaking, I include sliced finnocchio as a roasting vegetable. This would never have been done back home, for fennel was always served raw, the fronds and smaller stems being frozen for later use in a porchetta. Whether served alone or among crudités, fennel was either served plain or with a small, ramekin-sized dish containing a simple dipping sauce of extra virgin olive oil, salt, pepper, and maybe a little red wine vinegar. (There is a name for this sauce but neither Zia nor I can remember it.) I broke with tradition when, about 15 years ago while they were visiting Chicago, I served Mom & Zia a whole sea bass that had been stuffed with, and roasted upon a bed of, fennel. That was the first time either had been served cooked fennel. So, for me to add fennel to the roasting pan is somewhat of a big deal. The flavor it brings to the sauce, however, is well worth the change. Still, should you wish to roast your porchetta in true Bartolini fashion, prepare the roast as indicated below, omitting all the roasting vegetables, and place the porchetta on a roasting rack centered in a roasting pan. No matter how you roast your porchetta, bear in mind you may need to adjust the amount of herbs needed depending upon the size of your roast.
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- 1 raw picnic shoulder ham, skin on, bone removed, butterflied
- 4 tbsp fennel fronds, chopped
- 4 tbsp fresh parsley, chopped
- 8 – 10 garlic cloves, diced
- 3 – 4 tbsp fresh rosemary, chopped
- olive oil
- 1 tbsp marjoram
- 12 whole garlic cloves
- 1 fennel bulb, thinly sliced
- 1 onion, thinly sliced
- 3 celery stalks, chopped
- 3 carrots, cut into large pieces
- fingerlings or new potatoes
- 3 rosemary sprigs
- 6 cups chicken stock, divided
- 3 cups dry white wine, divided
- 3 tbsp AP flour
- About an hour before the porchetta is to go into the oven, combine the fennel fronds, parsley, chopped garlic, and rosemary. Add enough olive oil to make a paste, stir, and set aside.
- Use a sharp knife to score the pork skin, making a checkerboard or diamond pattern. Try to avoid cutting deeply into the pork meat, if at all.
- Place the roast, skin-side down, and “open it,” revealing as much surface area inside the roast as possible.
- Evenly coat the exposed flesh with the herbal paste created in Step 1. Season with marjoram before liberally seasoning with salt & pepper.
- Use twine to tie the roast securely. Set roast aside while it loses its chill.
- In a roasting pan, add the sliced onions, fennel, celery, and whole garlic cloves. Season liberally with salt & pepper.
- Place the roast atop the bed of roasting vegetables. Pre-heat oven to 450˚.
- Coat the roast with olive oil, add 2 cups stock plus 1 cup wine to the roasting pan.
- Place roasting pan in pre-heated oven. Every 20 minutes, baste the roast with the pan juices, add more stock and wine to the pan, if needed. (Be sure to reserve 2 cups of stock and 1/2 cup of wine for use later.)
- Meanwhile, place potatoes and carrots into a large bowl, season with salt and pepper, some rosemary, and enough olive oil to coat. Mix well.
- After 60 minutes total time, reduce oven temperature to 325˚, baste the roast adding more liquid to the pan if needed, and place the seasoned carrots and potatoes into the roasting pan.
- From this point forward, continue to baste the roast every 30 minutes or so, replenishing the pan juices when necessary.
- If outer skin grows too brown, use aluminum foil to tent the porchetta.
- Roast will be finished when the internal temperature reaches 165˚. When ready, remove roast to a cutting board and tent with aluminum foil to rest for at least 15 minutes. Remove the carrots and potatoes to a covered bowl. Strain the pan juices from remaining stewing vegetables.
- Use the reserved 1/2 cup of wine to deglaze the roasting pan over high heat.
- Use a grease separator to remove all but 3 tbsp of grease from the strained liquid.
- Reduce heat to medium, add the 3 tbsp of grease to the roasting pan, and add 3 tbsp AP flour. Mix thoroughly and cook for a minute or so to create a roux.
- Add the remaining pan juice liquids and stir until the sauce begins to thicken.
- Begin adding the reserved of stock to the pan, stirring constantly, over medium heat.
- Once all the stock has been added and the sauce thickened, taste for seasoning, remove from heat, and add a tab of butter to finish the sauce.
- Before carving the roast, use a small knife to remove the skin (crackling), which may be served with the roast or left in the kitchen as the Cook’s reward.
- Slice and serve the roast, accompanied by the sauce and reserved roasted vegetables.
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You’ll note the recipe calls for fennel fronds when, in reality, Mom also used the small, thin stems along with the fronds. I believe these stems bring much flavor to the roast but no one wants to find a stem in their food. To get around this, I make sure any stems used are chopped as finely as possible.
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