It’s almost summer and that means a day at the grill. Italians love to cook over an open flame. Wood fired pizza, the infamous Tuscan T-bone (bistecca alla fiorentina) and one of Italy’s all-time favorite dishes arrosto di porchetta allo spiedo (spit roasted suckling pig). Pork based Italian dishes have been part of the culinary history of Italy since the time of the Etruscans. Pigs and their rogue cousins, the wild boar (cinghiale ), have been made into salame, salumi (the most famous being prosciutto) and sausages for centuries. Italian sagras (street fairs) often feature spit roasted pork and traditionally every Italian family in Parma kept a pig that was butchered in the late fall for feasting and celebration. The Italian pig has inspired many cookbooks including Daniela Garavini’s book Pigs and Pork: 90 Recipes from Italy’s Most Celebrated Chefs and many regional specialties including Lardo di Colonnata, an artisanal delicacy made from a layer of fat from the back of the Cinta Senese pigs native to Tuscany.
But the lowly pig was to achieve elevated status during the Middle Ages and Renaissance at the banquet tables and boardrooms of some of Italy’s most powerful families. Cinta pigs, raised in and around Siena as early as the 14thcentury, are depicted in a famous fresco by Ambrogio Lorenzetti (1338) in Siena’s Palazzo Comunale (town hall). Titled L’Allegoria del Buon Governo a Cinta pig is led into a town that prospers under a good and wise government. In the contra fresco il Cattivo Governo (the bad government), the pigs are missing. And at the medieval banquet table the pig was rubbed with aromatic spices and herbs and anointed with wine.
Here is a recipe right up my grill, a regional preparation from the town of Arezzo, located in the middle of four valleys in southeastern Tuscany. One of my favorite Seeing and Savoring Italy sites, the locality and customs of cooking make it an evocative setting for sapori della Toscana, the flavors of Tuscany. The recipe is a grill friendly version of the traditional spit roasted whole suckling pig and uses the holy trinity of medieval spices (cloves, nutmeg, coriander and black pepper). Basting the pork with red wine as it grills prevents the meat from drying out and “imbues it with a subtly sweet flavor”.
Porchetta con Spezie Medievali
(Garlic Studded Pork Loin with Medieval Spices adapted from The Italian Grill cookbook by Micol Negrin)
6 garlic cloves, peeled
1 ½ t coarsely ground sea salt
¾ t coarsely ground red and black peppercorns
1/8 t ground cloves
1/8 t ground coriander
1/8 t freshly ground nutmeg
2 fresh rosemary sprigs (leaves only) + a bundle of fresh rosemary sprigs for basting
3 pound boneless pork loin (with a layer of fat on top)
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
1 cup red wine typical of Tuscany
Using a mini food processor or a mortar and pestle crush garlic with ½ t salt, ¼ t peppercorns, nutmeg, cloves, coriander and rosemary leaves until a paste forms. Using a sharp paring knife, strategically make a series of tiny slits into the top portion of the pork loin (6-8 in total). Using your fingers, press a small amount of the spice mixture into the slits. Rub the outside of the loin with olive oil, season with salt and pepper and the remaining spice mixture.
Heat the grill to a medium flame. Grill pork loin until that outside is browned and cooked all the way through to an internal meat temperature of 175 degrees. While grilling baste the meat with the bundle of fresh rosemary dipped in the red wine, anointing the pork every 10-15 minutes. Remove the pork to a cutting board and cover with aluminum foil to rest for 10 minutes. Slice on the diagonal.