Transforming a whole hog tradition into a home cook-friendly holiday pork roast was challenging. We tried a variety of cuts of meat. After testing recipes with pork loin (too dry) and pork belly (too fatty), we settled on a boneless pork butt roast. To replicate the bold flavors of fresh herbs, fennel and garlic used to season traditional porchetta, we made a seasoning paste with rosemary and oregano, as well as 20 cloves of garlic and more than ½ cup fennel seeds. Because the whole hog is used in Umbria, porchetta benefits from a blend of different cuts. To achieve this, we added pancetta (seasoned, un-smoked pork belly), which lent a richness to the filling and, along with butter, helped baste the roast from the inside out. A separate rub of brown sugar, salt and ground black pepper helped season the exterior as well as contribute some tasty browned bits. A simple jus of de-fatted pan drippings combined with fresh lemon juice, fruity olive oil and more pepper added extra flavor and moisture to the slices of perfectly seasoned, slow-roasted pork. To further drive home the fennel—a key flavoring of the dish in Italy—we used the time—as well as the pan—while the roasted pork rests to roast wedges of fresh fennel. Be sure to buy a boneless pork butt, not a boneless picnic roast; both are cut from the shoulder, but the butt comes from higher up on the animal and has better shape for this recipe. All told, you will need 10 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon ground fennel seed—the larger amount is used for the roast and the rest seasons the sauce. To be efficient, grind all of it at once by pulverizing 11 tablespoons in a spice grinder. The longer the pork rests, the easier it will be to slice. Porchetta leftovers make great sandwiches, thinly sliced and served on crusty bread or ciabatta rolls. Any leftover roasted fennel would be great on the sandwich, as well.
7- to 8-pound boneless pork butt
ounces pancetta, cut into ½-inch cubes
01To prepare the roast, remove any twine or netting around the pork. Locate the cut made to remove the bone, then open up the roast. Using a sharp knife, continue the cut until the roast opens like a book; do not cut all the way through, as the meat must remain in one piece. Using the tip of a paring knife, make 1-inch-deep incisions into the pork, spaced about 1 inch apart; do not cut all the way through the meat. Set aside. In a food processor, pulse the pancetta until coarsely chopped, about 15 pulses. Add the butter, rosemary, oregano, garlic, pepper flakes, ½ cup of the ground fennel and 2 teaspoons salt. Process until the mixture forms a spreadable paste, about 1 minute, scraping the bowl as needed. Spread the paste evenly over the interior of the pork, pressing the paste into the cuts. Roll the roast into a tight cylinder, then set it seam side down.
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