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A whole-hog tradition from Umbria becomes a holiday roast

Fennel-Rosemary Porchetta

1½ days 30 minutes active

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.

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