roast pork with wild fennel & garlic (porchetta)

6    |   
Prep Time:
20 minutes + 1 hour standing time    |   
Cook Time:
1 hour

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tuscany book

I’m not an ageist. I have friends of all ages, or at least from 4 to 84, and I never try to hide how old I am. But this week there’s a number I cannot bring myself to say: it’s my th–, thuh, thuh…thirtieth college reunion. Thirty. 30. That’s class of 1981, if you don’t do math.

Don’t worry. I’m not going to bore you with college nostalgia. I’m only going to say my sophomore year was the best because I spent most of it at school in Florence—Fiesole to be precise. Let’s just call it Tuscany. In 1979, most Americans didn’t even know Italy had regions, much less regional cooking, but la cucina toscana was the reason I fell in love with food and became a cook. Salads of bitter escarole, cannellini beans baked in a bottle, pizza blistered by the first wood-fired oven I’d seen, chicken livers on toast, tomato soup thick with unsalted bread. There was always green olive oil in a cruet on the table, poured  in un filo (threadlike stream) over everything. And pork. Everywhere pork. Roasted with garlic and field herbs and called arista; pork carved into hunks, slapped onto bread and called porchetta that was eaten at an outdoor mercato in the rain, in Umbria, just south of Tuscany, where I just happened to have had a boyfriend.

The other day I stumbled on a cookbook called tuscany (yes, with a little “t”) at the bookstore and saw recipes for these things, fagioli in fiasco, crostini di fegato and pappa al pomodoro. These were my old friends. Authentic dishes, not some American restaurateur’s interpretation. I took the book home and cooked and I was in Florence again, at the table. Age 19. Forever.

recipe adapted from Tuscany, published by Phaidon


1 boneless pork loin roast (about 2-1/2 pounds), preferably top-quality heritage pork
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
3 ounces pancetta or lardo*, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 sprig wild fennel (if available) or fronds of one fennel bulb, minced
kosher salt
olive oil
freshly ground pepper


With the tip of a paring knife, make small slits about 1/2-inch deep all over the pork in the fat and in the flesh on the top, bottom and ends. In a mortar and pestle, or with the bottom of a pot, pound the fennel seeds coarsely.

In a small bowl, mix together the pancetta, garlic, fennel seeds and sprig (if using), and 2 teaspoons of salt. With your fingers, push this mixture into the slits in the meat, using it all. Rub the entire roast with olive oil, then sprinkle well with salt and pepper. Let the roast sit at room temperature for up to an hour, or tightly seal it and refrigerate for up to 1 day (if made ahead, bring meat to room temperature before roasting). Preheat an oven to 350°F.

In a cast iron skillet, sauté pan or small roasting pan, heat enough oil to coat the bottom of the pan over medium-high heat. When hot, add the roast and cook, turning as needed with tongs to brown all sides. Transfer the pan with the meat fat side down to the oven and roast for 20 minutes. Turn the meat fat side up and continue roasting until golden brown and the meat juices run clear, 35 to 45 minutes more or until a meat thermometer reads 150-155°F. Let the meat rest on a board for 10 minutes, then slice to serve.

*lardo is creamy white rendered pork fat; find it at specialty butcher shops