Herb-Scented Tuscan Pork Roast

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At Peggy Markel's cooking school, La Cucina al Focolore, 18 miles southeast of Florence, a pork roast is boned and seasoned with sage-and-rosemary salt, then place on a rack of the bones, which add flavor to the meat and pan juices. As it roasts, it is basted with white wine, both to build up a caramelized surface and to provide a pan sauce, a technique used for all manner of roasts in Tuscany. My American adaptation of this recipe is to cover the roast with thin slices of pancetta, which give it the juiciness and savor of Italian pork.

This is a wonderful dinner party dish, because it takes so little work for such a dramatic effect. It is also delicious cold.

Note: If you ask the butcher to saw through the chine bone that holds the ribs together, the ribs will roast into a rack of delectable spare ribs, which you can cut apart to nibble on. (Bear in mind that, since ribs are quite rich, they will up the fat and calorie count.)

Ingredients

  • One 7-pound pork loin, boned (have the butcher do this, reserving the bones; see note above), fat trimmed
  • Tuscan Herb Salt (recipe follows)
  • Four 10-inch-long rosemary branches
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 3 ounces (4 to 5 thin slices) lean pancetta
  • 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • 2 cups dry white wine
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Tuscan Herb Salt:

  • 1 garlic clove
  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt
  • 1 small bunch fresh sage (about 30 leaves)
  • 2 sprigs fresh rosemary
Instructions

1. Pat the pork loin dry. Using a knife-sharpening steel or a long-handled wooden spoon, pierce a hole lengthwise through the center of the loin. Working from either end of the loin, use your fingers to stuff all but 1 tablespoon of the herb salt into the hole. Insert 1 of the rosemary branches into each end so that it forms a tassel. Mix the remaining herb salt with the 1 1/2 teaspoons salt and rub it all over the roast.

2. Arrange the pancetta slices, slightly overlapping each other, down the length of the roast. Arrange the 2 remaining rosemary sprigs on top. Tie the roast at 1-inch intervals with cotton string to give it a neat shape. Transfer to a platter, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least 2 hours (up to 24 hours). Bring to room temperature for 1 hour before roasting.

3. Preheat the over to 450°F.

4. Place the rack of rib bones curved-side down in a shallow roasting pan. Pat the roast dry with paper towels and rub with the olive oil. Place the roast on the rack and roast for 15 minutes. Remove the pan from the oven, turn the roast over, and baste with a few tablespoons of the wine. Return the roast to the oven and reduce the temperature to 350°F. Cook for 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 hours longer, turning the roast and basting it with wine every 20 minutes; reserve 1/2 cup of wine for the sauce. The roast is done when an instant-read thermometer inserted in the center registers 145°F.

5. Transfer the roast to a platter and pour the pan juices into a measuring cup. If the meat on the rack of bones is still pink and you wish to serve the ribs, place on a baking sheet and return to the oven for about 15 minutes.

6. Meanwhile, place the roasting pan over two burners over moderate heat; when it starts to sizzle, add the reserved 1/2 cup wine and cook for 2 minutes, scraping up the drippings from the bottom of the pan. Add to the pan juices in the measuring cup; let the fat rise to the surface, about 5 minutes. Skim off the fat and season the sauce with salt and pepper.

7. Remove the strings and carve the roast into thin slices. If serving the ribs, remove the rack from the pan and cut through the ribs. Arrange the meat and ribs on a platter and serve the pan juices on the side.

8. You can wrap and tie the pork loin up to 1 day ahead; cover and refrigerate. Bring to room temperature for 1 hour before roasting.

Tuscan Herb Salt
Makes about 1/4 cup

In Tuscany, this vibrantly flavored herb salt is used to season all kinds of roasts, from pork to guinea hen. While it is best fresh, you can also let it dry out in an uncovered container—the salt will preserve the herbs' and garlic's clear flavor—to use as a versatile seasoning. I love to toss some with sautéed vegetables like green beans or potatoes. You can also vary the combination of herbs, using thyme or savory in the same way. You will need about 1/4 cup herb leaves in all.

On a cutting board, mince the garlic with the salt. Place the herbs in a mound and coarsely chop them. Add the garlic salt and chop them together to make a coarse rub. Use the salt right away, or let it dry, uncovered, in a bowl for a few days.

The dried salt rub can be stored indefinitely in a clean dry jar.

Adapted from A New Way to Cook by Sally Schneider (Artisan, 2001). Copyright 2001 by Sally Schneider.

Prep time: 
30 minutes plus 2 hours resting in the fridge
Cook time: 
2 hours
Total time: 
About 4 1/2 hours
Yield: 
Serves 8

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