~ Mel's Petite Porketta for Joe's Jessup Sandwiches ~
It was the Spring of 1980. That's when I had my first encounter with this unique roasted pork roll -- in the form of a cold sandwich. Joe and I (newlyweds of four months) were visiting his mother Ann in his hometown of Jessup, (Northeastern) PA. Joe's brother Tom and his wife Kathy walked through Ann's kitchen door on Wilson Street shortly after us, and, once the mandatory cocktails were poured, Ann placed a brown bag on her kitchen table. It was quite informal and I had no idea what to expect, until Tom and Joe tore into it (which indicated her beloved sons knew exactly what was in it). It was full of porketta sandwiches from their favorite Italian market: Alunni's.
Porketta (that's how it's spelled in the Scranton/Wilkes'Barre area) is extremely popular in all the Italian-American communities throughout NE PA, and, in pockets of the Philadelphia area too. The seasoned, rolled and tied pork loin can be purchased uncooked in the meat departments of local grocery stores, or, cooked and sliced at the deli-counter of the same stores. At specialty markets like Alunni's, they make and sell the sandwiches too, as well as trays of sandwiches -- which show up at all sorts of large street festivals, church picnics and family gatherings.
Porketta is a cute Italian word for a small, stuffed suckling piglet.
Traditionally, porketta/porkequetta/porchetta (all pronounced por-KAYT-tah), is an Italian dish prepared using a whole, small piglet. Prior to roasting, the meat is stuffed with a mixture of salt, herbs and spices, which serve as the seasoning. During the roasting process, the meat is basted with olive oil to give it a golden, crispy skin. That said, for ease of preparation, most home cooks simply butterfly, pound, roll and tie a boneless pork loin (although pork belly or shoulder can be used too). It can be sliced and served hot as a knife and fork meal, or, refrigerated and sliced cold in a deli sandwich, and, it is common to make porketta for the sole purpose the latter.
Nowadays, most cooks butterfly, pound, stuff & roll a pork loin.
As Joe's mom started getting older, I slowly-but-happily, started taking over the holiday cooking responsibilities for her. I thoroughly enjoyed it because it caused me to get to know the cooks in their family. Uncle Geno was the first. He was a fabulous cook, and, on a trip to his San Cruz, CA home in 1981, I not only learned how to make polenta, I learned what a polenta board is. Aunt Anne's forte was baking, and I am grateful to her for passing along several traditional cookie recipes. Aunt Susie cooked and baked, but, getting an exact recipe for anything from her proved futile. She told me what she put in her porketta and I was expected to take it from there. (The list goes on -- Aunt June, Teresa and Albina -- they all contributed to my recipe box over the years.)
Armed with a piece of porketta purchased in Jessup, for side-by-side taste-testing of Aunt Susie's ingredients list, it didn't take long for me to concoct the "right" herb and spice mix. By "right" I mean the way they make it in Jessup, which means dill (not fennel or rosemary) takes center stage on the flavor profile. There's more. There came a time when I wanted to incorporate porketta into Joe's family's Easter celebration without serving it as part of the main meal. That's when I decided to use small pork tenderloins, in order to serve small slider-sized sandwiches, along with deviled eggs, as appetizers. Everyone loved the idea, so, I've done it every year since.
... to serve as slider-sized appetizers w/deviled eggs in the Spring!
3 ounces minced, fresh dill, mostly feathery greens, some stems thinner stems are are ok, thick woody stems are not fine
2 tablespoons garlic powder
2 tablespoons dry English mustard
2 teaspoons sugar
2 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons coarsely-ground black pepper
freshly-ground sea salt and peppercorn blend
~ Step 1. Line a 12 1/2" x 8 3/4" baking pan with aluminum foil and place a sheet of parchment over the foil. Set aside. Using a pair of kitchen shears, cut 16 pieces cotton kitchen twine (it's necessary to have this twine) into 13"-14" lengths.
~ Step 2. To prepare the herb/spice blend, mince the dill as directed and place it in a medium bowl along with the garlic powder, dry mustard, sugar, salt and black pepper.
Using a spoon, toss, to incorporate the spices throughout the fresh dill. Set aside 13-15 minutes, stopping to restir the mixture every 3-5 minutes. The salt will wilt the dill and spices will absorb moisture from the dill, resulting in a mixture that resembles clumpy, wet grass clippings. Preheat oven to 500°.
~Step 3. To assemble and tie each porketta, just like drawing vertical lines on a sheet of paper, place 8 lengths of the twine, spaced about 1 1/2" apart, on a clean, flat work surface (I use a sheet of parchment). Place 1 tenderloin, the flattest "rough" side, facing up across the center of the strings. Spoon/distribute 1/2 of the dill mixture evenly over the top of the tenderloin. Place a second pork tenderloin, the flattest "rough" side, facing down on top of the dill mixture. Starting in the center and working towards the ends, lift and tie each piece of twine into a simple, tight knot. Using the kitchen sheers, snip off the loose excess ends of the twine. Place the assembled porketta on the prepared baking pan.
~ Step 4. Repeat this process a second time, placing the second porketta 1"-2" apart from the first one, on the same, prepared pan. Examine each porketta, and, using the fingertip of your index finger, tuck/poke as much of any exposed dill mixture as possible back into the center. This will keep the dill a nice green color after roasting. Using a pastry brush, liberally paint each porketta with olive oil, coating all of the exposed, visible surface. Grind a generous coating of sea salt and peppercorn blend (or black pepper) over all.
~ Step 5. Place porketta on center rack of preheated 500° oven and immediately reduce oven temperature to 350°. Roast, uncovered, about 65-75 minutes, or, until an instant-read thermometer inserted into 3-4 spots reads 155°-160°, checking the temperature diligently every 5 minutes after 55 minutes of cooking.
Porketta will be golden brown and juices will be running clear.
~ Step 6. Remove from oven. Immediately cover and tightly seal pan with aluminum foil. If planning to serve hot, allow porketta to rest 30 minutes, prior to slicing and serving. For sandwiches, allow to cool until slightly warm, 3 1/2-4 hours, prior to individually wrapping each porketta with plastic wrap and refrigerating overnight prior to slicing.
Appetizers are served: porketta sliders w/deviled eggs!
Special Equipment List: 12 1/2" x 8 3/4" baking pan; aluminum foil; parchment paper; kitchen shears; cotton kitchen twine; cutting board; chef's knife; pastry brush instant-read meat thermometer; plastic wrap
Cook's Note: When Ann served Alunni's porketta sandwiches, she served them with 'Luni's homemade-on-site potato salad. To get my recipe for ~ GrandMel's Creamy Potato and Egg Salad Recipe ~, which tastes just as good as deviled eggs with porketta, click in Categories 4, 10, 17 or 20.
"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti
(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2017)