The Porcetta is Italy’s superior hog roast. Sold in street markets from the back of vans it is an unexpected delicacy. The first time I tried it we were in Italy for a wedding. We arrived during a festival and every shop restaurant and bar was shut – except for one enigmatic white van, around which a long, chattering queue of little old ladies pushed checked trollies. I joined the queue, in lieu of anything else available, and ordered I knew not what, using international hand signals (pointy fingers, nodding head etc).
Large chunks of pork were sliced off a whole pig, topped with pork liver stuffing, large pieces of crackling and wrapped in wax paper. Oh what joy! It’s hard to describe the surprise and delight that comes with the first taste of Porcetta. Its aniseed laced flavours hit the brain and explode in juicy perfection. With burnt fingers we polished off the salty dripping meat in the burning sun and challenged our teeth on perfect crackling.
It tickles me that a country so warm and full of Mediterranean sparkle should create a meal that I can’t help but crave during the cold, damp nights of a Northern European winter. Particularly Bonfire Night and New Year’s Eve – it’s an enigma. Saying that, there is something enticing about the warming spice of chilli and fennel when you’re freezing your proverbials off in front of a bonfire or taking in the amateur fireworks display put on, with great bravado, by EVERY male present. It’s also an incredibly easy way to feed the masses.
So what is that elusive element that draws me again and again to a Bonfire Porcetta? Maybe it’s watching the steam, rising from a hot ciabatta roll in the dark, or burning my fingers on a roast potato near an open fire. Maybe the golden crunch of salty crackling puts me in mind of autumn leaves and crisp frosty mornings. Who’s to tell, but it remains my favourite bonfire treat.
Also goes very well with Honey Roast Butternut Squash with Thyme and Feta
A whole boned loin of pork with belly and skin still attached – keep the bones and ask the butcher to score the skin
5 Bay leaves
1-2 tbsp chilli flakes
4 tbsp fennel seeds
3 tbsp Maldon salt
Zest of 2 lemons
25 ciabatta bread rolls
3 kg roast baby new potatoes
Put all the dry ingredients together into a blender or coffee grinder and blitz in pulses until they are ground up into itty bitty pieces, but not yet a powder – see the picture below – if you do go too far, don’t worry, it still tastes the same. Stir in the lemon zest.
Turn the pork loin so that it’s skin side down and rub the marinade over the meat, pushing it into all the nooks and crannies so that there’s not a bit of meat left bare. Before you turn the meat back over, tie the pork with string at regular spaces. This needs to be done quite tightly, so get someone to give you a hand, much as you would when wrapping pressies. It’s easier if you use more string than required and then cut the excess off after you’ve made the knots. It should look like below when you’ve finished
Rub generous quantities of salt over the skin, pushing it into the scores. Put the loin to one side whilst you preheat the oven.
Peel the onions and cut them in half, then cut each half into four. Put in a large roasting tin, drizzle over a generous amount of olive oil and a generous sprinkling of salt. Roast in the oven for 45-60mins at 180C until soft, sticky and charred at the edges. To ensure they crisp slightly you want as thin a layer of onions in the pan as possible so that the air can get to them – this may mean using two roasting tins. Stir occasionally to ensure they all blacken slightly and don’t stew in their own juices.
Once the onions are cooked, remove them from the oven and put into a serving bowl. You can throw them in a wok or large frying pan to reheat when it’s time to serve. Don’t clean the roasting tin though, as you’ll use it for the potatoes later.
Turn the oven up as hot as it will go. Once it reaches the maximum temperature put in the loin of pork and turn the oven down to 180 immediately. This should ensure a fantastically crispy crackling. Ahhh, sweet memories.
Leave the porcetta to cook for 2 and a half hours. In the meantime put the potatoes in the tray you used to roast the onions, add a generous sprinkling of salt, a good slug of olive oil and stir so they are covered in onion leftovers. Put the potatoes in to roast an hour and half after the porcetta. Stir the potatoes once or twice during the cooking process to ensure they are basted in the oil and onion juices.
Cooking time done, remove the porcetta from the oven and leave to rest for 15 minutes. Whilst it’s doing so, partially slice the rolls in half so they don’t fall apart and pop in the oven to warm up for 5 minutes. Heat the onions and put the roasted tatties in their roasting tin on the table. Cut the crackling clear of the meat before carving and break into small pieces, carve the pork into generous slices (about 5mm thick)and call everyone in from the cold to serve themselves with a porcetta and roast onion roll with hot roast potatoes.