The holidays are coming, despite the lingering sadness and frustrations of the pandemic.
Christmas dinner for our family will be a very small gathering and, most likely, I will be cooking our traditional prime rib with crispy roast potatoes, sugary glazed carrots and something “green.” It’s the same every year.
But, recently, during a rare lunch out with a good friend, I asked her what she makes for Christmas dinner. Honoring her husband’s Italian heritage, she said they always make “porchetta,” and that it is wonderful. Now, I am a veteran of roasting pork—it’s a great Sunday dinner. And, for my family, it wouldn’t be New Year’s Day without pork and sauerkraut. But neither I, nor my mother, have ever made authentic porchetta.
I know that porchetta is a popular “street food” in Italy, especially in the area around Rome, where it is sold from vans and often as a sandwich (panini). A whole pig, sometimes stuffed with garlic, fennel and other herbs, is roasted on a spit with all its skin and fat. (Maybe we could bring a porchetta food van to Artsfest on the river when it returns. It might challenge “chicken on a stick”!)
I asked my friend if she would share her recipe with me. She and her son have been happily working together on their Christmas porchetta for some time now. They know the routine so well. Buy a large, fresh bone-in pork shoulder weighing anywhere from seven to 10 pounds. They tell me that the pork must have a bone and that, with it, the flavor is better. From there on, the directions seemed to get a little “loosey goosey.” So, what I did was combine my friend’s recipe with what I found in my old “Soprano’s Family Cookbook” and came up with a hybrid process for “Tony Soprano’s Roast Pork Sunday Dinner and Annie and Chris’s Holiday Porchetta.”
The first step, of course, is to find a pork shoulder roast. I went searching. The nicest ones I found were at Wegman’s—very fresh looking, pink, plump and streaked with marbling (nicer than saying “fat”). You can search other places, as well. Try the farmers markets (Broad Street or West Shore) or even places like Costco and BJ’s.
- 7 to 10 pound bone-in pork shoulder
- 8 garlic cloves
- 1 tablespoon coarsely chopped fresh rosemary
- 1 tablespoon coarsely chopped fresh sage
- 1 tablespoon salt
- 1 teaspoon coarsely ground pepper
- ¼ cup chopped fresh basil (optional)
- Olive oil
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
- Place the garlic cloves, rosemary, sage, and basil (if using) in the bowl of a food processor and chop finely.
- Drizzle enough olive oil into the food processor to form a paste.
- With a small, sharp knife, score the pork skin, cutting a quarter-inch deep crosshatch pattern over the roast.
- Poke deep pockets into the surface of the pork with the knife. Rub the paste into the cuts and over the entire roast if there is any remaining.
- Place the pork in a large roasting pan, preferably over a rack, and add a small amount of water to the bottom. Cover the roast loosely with aluminum foil.
- Roast the pork for about 3 hours.
- After 3 hours, tip the pan carefully and remove the excess fat.
- Continue roasting until the skin is crisp and a deep nutty brown, removing the foil during the last hour of roasting. Remember, total roasting time will depend on the size of the pork shoulder, but anticipate at least an additional 1½ to 2 hours.
My friend promises that, at the end of long, slow roasting, the pork will be succulent and slice easily. She serves it with her red sauce over pasta. But how wonderful it would be with creamy polenta or served on rolls for a holiday buffet.
I suspect that turkey, roast beef and ham will grace most Christmas tables. But Italian porchetta would be a fun way to welcome in the New Year.
Thank you, Annie and Chris for sharing your recipe. And Buon Natale to all our readers.
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