We often go shopping in nearby Italy, particularly during the winter months and, as you know, Italians love nothing better than getting family and friends together over the dinner table. So I’m going to be preparing a veritable Tuscan feast over the next two weekends. This week it’s the main course, while next Saturday’s Musette will have the recipes for the starters and dessert.
There are lots of designer outlet shops in Tuscany but I rarely bother to check them out. Instead I prefer shopping for food and wine. One of my all-time favourite butchers is situated in the town square of Greve in Chianti, it’s the Antica Macelleria Falorni which has stood in the same place since 1729. I have been known to spend over an hour just looking and inhaling the wonderful aromas in this family-run establishment. It looks small but it’s a deceptively large shop.
The Italians love – nay, revere – pork so it’s appropriate that the main course is my Tuscan slow-roasted pork which will cook happily while I’m out cycling.
Ingredients (serves four hungry cyclists)
- 2.5kg (4lbs) piece boneless pork belly (skin on)
- 1 tbsp fennel seeds
- 1 tsp freshly grated lemon zest
- 4 fat garlic cloves
- 3 tbsp olive oil
- 2 cups (500ml) dry white wine
- Freshly ground black pepper and fine sea salt
1. In order to get really crispy pork crackling you need to ensure that the skin is dry. I will typically wipe it dry with paper kitchen towel and leave the pork overnight uncovered, skin side up, in the fridge. But if you don’t have time to spare, pour a kettle of boiling water over the skin and then blot dry.
2. Prepare the marinade by placing all the other ingredients, except the wine and just 2 tbsp of the oil, in a small blender or pestle and mortar. Add 1 tsp of salt and ½ tsp of freshly ground black pepper, and pound or blend to a runny paste.
3. Turn the pork over and place skin side down on some cling film (plastic wrap), massage the marinade into the pork flesh, cover with cling film and marinade for at least a couple of hours, preferably overnight.
4. Take the pork out of the fridge and allow to come to room temperature. Score the skin with a very sharp knife. Don’t cut too deeply – you basically want to just score through the rind and not too deeply into the layer of fat below. This will allow much of the belly fat to render out during the cooking process leaving meltingly tender and moist meat.
5. Remove the cling film, place skin side up on a rack over a large roasting pan. Rub the now dry skin with a tbsp of olive oil and a tsp of sea salt.
6. Pour about 250ml (1 cup) of water into the bottom of the roasting pan – just enough to cover the pan, but not enough to touch the roast. This is to prevent the stuff that drips off the pork from burning to the bottom of the pan.
7. Roast in a slow preheated oven 150°C /130°C fan/gas mark 2 (300°F/275°F fan) for about 3 to 3½ hours, adding more water to the pan if it dries out.
8. You know it’s ready when the rind is translucent and brittle and the fat is golden, crispy and completely puffed up. If your belly looks like this then you’ll have the most tender, succulent meat topped with nice crispy crackling.
9. Oven temperatures do vary, so if the pork doesn’t look like that yet, just turn up the temperature to 200°C/gas mark 6 (400°F) and flash-roast for an additional ½-hour, or until it’s done.
10. Remove from the oven, put the meat on a chopping board, cover with aluminium foil and let it stand for at least 20 minutes before slicing – if you can keep your hands off it, that is.
11. While the pork’s resting, make the jus. Discard all but 2 tbsp of fat from pan, retaining all the juices, place the pan over medium heat and stir in wine to deglaze, strain and add a knob of butter for a silky shine and keep warm.
12. Thickly slice the pork and serve with vegetables of your choice and the jus.
Sheree’s handy hints
1. I’m not a ‘gravy’ fan but feel free to add sliced onions to the roasting pan for the last hour or so and once you’ve deglazed the pan, per step 11 above, add 250ml (1 cup) of chicken or ham stock (preferably home-made) and some roux (1 tbsp flour mixed with 1 tbsp soft butter), stirring to combine well and allow to thicken. Strain and keep warm.
2. I like to serve this dish with oven-roasted fennel served with a dusting of freshly grated parmesan cheese and, if I’m feeding lots of boys, some oven-roasted garlic and rosemary potatoes.