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Roasted Pork da Ventura Style

Pancetta di Maiale in Porchetta da Ventura

SERVES 10 TO 12

This incredible pork roast known as pancetta di maiale in porchetta was worth the trip to Sansepolcro where chef Marco Tofanelli made it for me just as I had remembered his father preparing it years ago at Da Ventura. Pancetta refers to pork from the belly of the pig.

The flavor is sweeter than our pork and the meat must marinate for two days to meld the seasonings. To achieve the crispy exterior, ask your butcher to give you extra pork fat for placing on top of the meat, since American pork is much leaner than the Italian equivalent. This is a great holiday main entrée, and the next best thing to being at Da Ventura.

Ingredients

6 1/2 pounds boneless center cut loin pork roast, or sirloin roast, butterflied

2 knobs of garlic, separated into cloves, and left unpeeled (about 12 to 15 cloves)

2 to 3 tablespoons fine sea salt

Grinding of coarse black pepper to taste

1 tablespoon ground fennel seeds or fennel pollen

Extra pork fat

4 fennel tops with stems

Directions

When you get the roast home form the butcher, open it like a book. Flatten the garlic cloves slightly with the back of a knife and sprinkle the garlic randomly over the meat. It may seem like a lot of garlic, but you will be surprised at how mild the flavor will be.

Sprinkle the salt, and a grinding of black pepper evenly over the meat, then sprinkle on the ground fennel seeds or pollen. Now roll the meat up tightly like a jellyroll. Spread the extra pork fat on top of the roast. Put the whole fennel leaves on top of the pork fat, and anchor everything in place by going around the roast, tying it in several places with kitchen string.

Put the roast in a pan, cover it with aluminum foil and put it in the refrigerator to marinate for two days. Marco says that this is critical to developing the flavors.

When you are ready to cook the roast, preheat the oven to 325 F. Put the roast in a roasting pan and cook it on the middle oven rack for 1 1/2 hours, then raise the temperature to 425 F and cook 1 hour longer. The roast should be almost bronzed looking.

Cut the strings and discard them along with the fennel tops. Let the roast stand for 5 or 10 minutes covered. It will slice better if you are patient. Cut the roast into serving slices and accompany with roasted potatoes.

Note: Marco used finocchio fiore or fennel flower to flavor the pork. I bought some in a small grocery store in Sansepolcro. You can substitute ground fennel seeds by placing whole fennel seeds in a small grinder. Or you can buy a product called fennel pollen in specialty stores or through catalogs such as Penzey's.

This recipe is from CIAO ITALIA IN TUSCANY by Mary Ann Esposito, published by St. Martin's Press in 2003.

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