One of my closest friends works in a lovely wine bar in NYC – Cellar 58. So as I love to see my friend and drink some good Italian wine, (in Italian we call this “Prendere due piccioni con una fava” which basically means “To kill two birds with one stone”) I go to visit her as often as possible. Needless to say I have elected my favorite dish on the bar menu: the porchetta sandwich. Porchetta is a succulent pork roast, typical of the traditional cuisine of Lazio, Marche, Umbria and Tuscany (Cellar 58’s menu has been inspired by the cuisine of these regions). The exact location of where porchetta was first conceived is still a culinary mystery. People from Ariccia, in Lazio, claim paternity of the original recipe, while in Umbria it is told that Norcia, town known for pig farms since the times of the Ancient Romans, is the culprit. Apparently even the people of the Marche have claimed to be the originators…
Porchetta is a tender and juicy hunk of pork encased within fatty, crispy skin (crackling) made by cooking together rosemary, garlic, fennel, sage, salt and pepper and spreading them over pork loin. The meat is then rolled up before being tied with butcher’s twine and roasted (usually for about two and a half hours). The pork is so flavorful you really do not need any other accompanying ingredient. There are however regional differences: tradition calls for two basic ways to season porchetta. In southern Tuscany, southern Castelli di Roma and in other areas of Central Italy, it is seasoned mainly with rosemary. In northern Lazio, Umbria and Marche it is seasoned mainly with wild fennel which gives it a unique taste and aroma.
The Porchetta sandwich is not commonly eaten during a meal, but between meals as a “snack” or as a craving after a long night out (drinking and dancing). It is usually eaten warm, sliced and stuffed into fresh bread (ciabatta is a fave) on the street (from special trucks), outside a nightclub, during concerts, open air markets, town sagre and sporting events. Porchetta needs to be eaten right away, there is no time to waste. The most flavorful parts are those with equal parts of fat and lean meat that are marbled with stuffing. The crispiness of the skin best indicates the freshness of the meat.
In Tuscany or Umbria, street sellers are called porchettai, while in the Castelli di Roma area they are known as porchettari. NYC is still porchettari-free so when in need of this special sandwich going to Cellar 58 is the best solution. (One can also stop by Porchetta, where Chef Sara Jenkins makes porchetta sandwiches to takeout).
By Natasha Lardera