I am no stranger to porchetta. I grew up in Northeastern Pennsylvania where porchetta/porketta sandwiches can be had at most any deli. I always ordered mine with provolone and hot peppers on a hoagie roll. So good. Although the concept is similar, this porchetta is a bit more upscale than the more humble NE PA version. We served it to friends Erika and Jesse this past weekend and they seemed to be porchetta converts when they left.
The reasons to make porchetta for guests abound. In addition to fooling your guests into thinking you are a great cook, it is easy and fairly inexpensive. All of the work except for slicing it is done 2-3 days in advance, so you can enjoy a couple glasses of wine with your guests as the roast finishes in the oven. And the recipe calls for the budget friendly pork shoulder. What’s not to love? Truthfully, I didn’t put the roast together until the morning of the same day we roasted it and it was still delicious. I mention this so that the prep time doesn’t stop us procrastinators from making it.
Traditionally, porchetta is made from a whole pig stuffed with herbs, garlic, and capers, and roasted over a wood fire. Judy Rodgers at Zuni came up with this ingenious way of imitating the traditional Italian method with a more manageable cut of pork, pork shoulder. The natural seams in a cut of pork shoulder are perfect places to stuff the herb mixture.
Although the porchetta has the starring role, I almost prefer the vegetables. They become nicely carmelized with pork drippings from snuggling next to the pork. To round out the meal, we added Ayers Creek Farm Amish butter polenta and sauteed turnip greens with carmelized onions. We baked the polenta Paula Wolfert style because the required temperature was the same as the porchetta.
All ingredients were local, except for the lemon, olive oil, and capers. We used Carlton Farm pork and all vegetables were purchased at the wonderful little market behind Mazzi’s and Hideaway Bakery.
Mock Porchetta, from The Zuni Cafe Cookbook
3 to 3-1/2 lb boneless pork shoulder
1 Tbsp capers, rinsed, dried, and chopped
1 tsp lemon zest (about one lemon)
3 garlic cloves, coarsely chopped
12 sage leaves, crushed and coarsely chopped
2 tsp rosemary, coarsely chopped
3 tsp fennel seeds, crushed
2 tsp black pepper, freshly ground
2 lbs fresh vegetables (we used fennel, carrots, and turnips), cut into 3/4 in chunks
2/3 cup chicken stock
3 Tbsp dry vermouth
Preparing the pork, 2-3 days in advance
Find natural seams in pork shoulder. You want one that runs the length of the meat, if available. Use a knife to separate the meat along the seam. If you find other seams along that seam, separate those as well. Be careful not to cut the meat into two pieces while separating the seams. Generously salt the pork all over, including on the seams that you just separated. Use 1/2-1 tsp per pound of meat. Coarse salt works better for salting meat. I typically use kosher salt, but sea salt also works.
Combine capers, lemon zest, garlic, sage, rosemary, 2 tsp fennel, 1-1/2 tsp black pepper. Spread this over the seams that you just opened. Fold the meat back together and tie tightly with cooking string. You will probably need 4-5 pieces of string. Rub the remaining fennel and pepper on the outside of the roast. Reserve and refrigerate any herbs that fell out in the tying process. Cover the pork loosely and refrigerate. Now you are done for 2-3 days!
Preheat the oven to 350F. Toss vegetable chunks in olive oil and a little salt. Heat a 12-14 inch ovenproof skillet (we use our cast iron pan) over medium heat. Place the pork in the pan and surround with the vegetables. Place in the oven. After 1 hour, turn the roast over and stir the vegetables. Turn the roast back over after 2 hours, add 1/3 cup chicken stock and reserved herbs to the skillet, and stir the vegetables. Roast until the internal temperature reaches 185F, about another 15-30 minutes. Transfer meat to a platter and tent with foil while you make the pan sauce. Transfer vegetables to a warm bowl and cover.
Remove any fat visible on the surface. Add the vermouth and 1/3 cup stock and heat over low. Scrape pan drippings from bottom of skillet and bring to a simmer.
To serve, slice the pork, and serve with vegetables and a couple spoonfuls of the pan sauce.