Travel almost anywhere in central Italy and it probably won’t be long before you encounter a white truck parked in a square or at a roadside, usually with a picture of a pig on the side. It will most likely have attracted a small crowd, smoke will be rising lazily from the chimney on its roof, and on the air will drift the irresistible aroma of roasting pork. This is the porchetta van, and if you ever come across one, stop, order a porchetta panino and savour the salty, herby, succulent pork inside.
Porchetta’s culinary status in Italy is recognised by no less an authority than the Italian Ministero delle Politiche Agricole, Alimentari e Forestali as a traditional agricultural-alimentary product, and one of a long list of time-honoured Italian foods determined to have cultural relevance. Traditionally a suckling pig is used, boned, stuffed with wild herbs and spit-roasted to deliciousness over a wood fire.
As there’s much talk at the moment, and rightly so, about the state of the British pig industry, making your own porchetta seems like a good way of doing your bit for our pig farmers, and treating yourself at the same time. Here’s a recipe that saves you having to hunt down a whole pig and gather armfuls of wild fennel, but still tastes irresistibly good. If you’re lucky enough to have any leftovers, they’re great cold in a next-day sandwich.
Preheat your oven to 150ºC. Take about 3kg of not-too-fatty belly pork, in the piece, lay it out skin-side down and sprinkle generously with salt and pepper, 8 cloves of chopped garlic, a small handful each of chopped rosemary and crushed fennel seeds. Roll the pork up widthways and tie tightly with string. Put the meat onto a baking sheet, rub the skin with olive oil and season with more salt and pepper. Roast for 3 hours, then rest for 15 minutes (the pork that is!) before slicing with a sharp knife.