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Porchetta Van at Greve-in-Chianti

Porchetta – An Italian Food Classic

One of the joys of cuisine in Italy is finding mobile food vans selling hot Porchetta, especially on weekends and national holidays. I recommend that you ask if there’s a van visiting nearby wherever you stay in Italy. It might be at a market or village celebration. Sometimes the regular vans are pitched on the side of the road, seemingly in the middle of nowhere.

Porchetta is pork belly stuffed and rolled, then roasted and thinly sliced. It often comes as a panino or with focaccia. However, whole joints form the centrepiece of a family meal, a treat for high days and holidays.

In the meantime, Porchetta is a regular in this household. As well as its prodigious wine-matching capabilities, it’s also straightforward to make and so is ideal for those with limited culinary prowess (i.e. this author). It’s also a real crowd-pleaser. Moreover, complex wines show well with relatively simple food. But simple does not mean ordinary.

Inevitably, there are regional variations, for example, from Umbria, Lazio, Tuscany, Veneto, Abruzzo and Sardinia. There are lots more variations online too. This version is by Gennaro Contaldo, served with Sautéed potatoes. It’s easy, and it works every time.

All you have to do is allow plenty of time and follow the recipe. It’s for 10-12 people. You can reduce that to half the size and reduce the roasting time accordingly. However, you need it to be large enough to roll up properly. Anyway, leftover cold Porchetta is a fabulous treat in its own right. Or it freezes well.

Porchetta Recipe (serves 10-12)

5 kg piece of pork belly – ask the butcher to remove the ribs and trim off any excess fat so it’s ready to roll up.  Get the skin scored, too; it’ll make carving much more manageable.

25 g coarse salt

2 tbsp fresh thyme leaves

2 tbsp fresh rosemary, roughly chopped

large bunch fresh sage leaves, roughly chopped

1 tbsp fennel seeds (if you are lucky enough to find wild fennel, use it instead, finely chopped). Don’t omit the fennel!

Eight garlic cloves, finely chopped

2 tbsp olive oil

6 tbsp runny honey

freshly ground black pepper

String (or elastic ties) & Aluminium foil


Lay the pork belly skin-side down onto a clean flat surface. Sprinkle the salt and coarsely ground black pepper over it, rubbing these well into the meat with your fingers. Leave to rest for ten minutes, so the salt and pepper settle deep into the pork. Then sprinkle the herbs, fennel seeds and garlic evenly over it and rub in.

Next, the most challenging part – tie up the meat. You will need ten pieces of string, each about 30 cm long. Alternatively, ask your butcher for some elasticated ties; they will make this job much more straightforward. Roll the meat widthways and tie tightly in the middle and then at either end. Add more strings to ensure a tight wrapping all the way along.

All the seasoning should be inside; push it back in should any excess filling escape. Now, massage one tablespoon of olive oil all over the rolled-up joint with your hands. Then rub the remaining salt and some more black pepper over it. 



Preheat the oven to 230°C

Grease a large roasting tin with the remaining olive oil and place the pork in it. Roast for ten minutes, then turn it over. After fifteen minutes, reduce the oven temperature to 150°C and cover the meat with aluminium foil. Don’t bother with the foil if you like the crackling very crisp, but remember it will be harder to slice thinly.

Now roast slowly for three hours, then remove from the oven. Coat it with honey and some roasting tin juices. 

Now let it stand for ten minutes. Meanwhile, place the roasting tin on the hob, skim off any fat and stir, scraping up all the caramelised bits from the base of the container until the juices from the meat reduce and thicken slightly. Slice the hot Porchetta thinly and serve with the gravy. Alternatively, please leave it to cool and slice when needed. It will keep in the fridge for up to a week and will also freeze well.





Porchetta slices

Sautéed potatoes

400 g small new potatoes, scrubbed and halved

6 tbsp olive oil

Eight garlic cloves, unpeeled and squashed

Four sprigs of fresh rosemary


Cook the potatoes in boiling salted water or steam until tender (8-10 minutes), then drain. Heat the olive oil in a frying pan and add the garlic and rosemary, followed by the potatoes. Allow them to colour on all sides over high heat. Stir to prevent them from sticking to the pan. Finally, season with salt and freshly ground black pepper.

And finally

Such is Porchetta’s central role in Italian life that The Italian Ministry of Agricultural, Food and Forestry lists it as a Prodotto agroalimentare tradizionale. It means that Porchetta is a “traditional agricultural-food product with cultural relevance.” Just call it an Italian Food classic.

Make Porchetta next time you’re thinking of a celebratory meal or want to drink Italian red wine. Preferably do both together!


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