I saw what appeared to be a whole pig with the head still attached, the body tied neatly in a roll with crispy looking skin.
The crunch of the skin mixed with succulent moist meat was heaven.
The seasonings create the perfect balance of salty and sweet. This was an experience of flavors I revisited over and over again at the markets of Italy. I was in Torino at a Slow Food event and every morning I made this my breakfast. I returned to the same vendor for a slice of porchetta served with greens. I could never get enough of the cooked greens – I always asked for more. By the third day the Italian woman serving my breakfast recognized me and would have my plate with the pork and extra greens already dished up for me as I stepped up to her counter.
The porchetta with the head is called Roman Porchetta. Porchetta, an obvious derivative of the word porco, “pork”, is nothing more than what it seems: a roasted pork cooked on a spit for hours at times to create this delicious, moist and flavorful treat available almost everywhere in Italy. Pigs are roasted in the open air at street fairs, or in the ancient wood stoves. The center of the pig is deboned and dressed with abundance of rosemary, fennel and garlic, rubbed with the mixture, and then tightly rolled.
Porchetta is the quintessential Italian street food as it is impossible to find in a restaurant. Last April I was in Tavarnelle Val di Pesa, a small village between Sienna and Florence, and found a porchetta merchant. I immediately asked if he could teach me the art of porchetta. My dear friend Vanessa, who knows him as the porchetta caterer, made an appointment to visit him on a day that he was making it. He and his wife are the town caterers and do everything out of their basement kitchen which is 12′ x 16′ and has a ceiling hung with cured meats all carefully labeled and dated. It is there that I learned his art and techniques.
I especially loved his oven, which was located on the side of the road, about 3 kilometers from his kitchen.
The townspeople leave their wood scraps and boxes piled up alongside the oven. The methods and way of life are all reminiscent of a previous time and place.
<<This is the way it is done in the villages of Tuscany: the meat is prepared, placed into the back of the car, and taken done the road to the oven. Our local board of health would wouldn’t consider such an idea as “safe” transport.
Today, in my kitchen, we are preparing our own porchetta from a pig raised by a farmer we know in Western Massachusetts. The pig is a large black breed and it had a very good life, raised on a farm with about 60 other pigs. The pig lived well, running around soaking up the sunshine, rooting around in a fenced in pasture, the way all animals that are raised for meat should be raised.
All this for a perfect Italian feast not unlike they have been doing in Italy for centuries.
Image Credit: Top – Jocelyn Filley Photography