The one sure way to entice our sons to come for Sunday dinner is the mention of porketta. In Italy, traditional porketta is a spit-roasted, deboned and stuffed suckling pig.
But the dish was adapted for home kitchens generations ago by Iron Range cooks — Finn, Norwegian and Cornish — and it remains a staple in cafes and at community gatherings today. My favorite version is credited to Margaret Erjavec, whose recipe appears in “The Old Country Cookbook: Cooking From the Iron Range.”
Porketta (also spelled “porchetta”) is a satisfying dish that relies on a shoulder cut of pork. Leftovers are one of the very best reasons for making more than you’ll eat in one sitting. The key to a great porketta, of course, is the quality of the meat. Butcher shops (such as Clancey’s, Lowry Hill Meats, St. Paul Meat Co.) and our food co-ops carry pork from heritage breeds; that meat tends to have more marbling.
Pork shoulder is not at all fussy. Choose a skin-on, boneless roast. You will score the skin and some of the fat with a sharp knife so that it bastes the meat to succulent perfection while developing a golden crust and lovely cracklings. Some cooks brown the meat on the stove before roasting, but I find it’s just as effective (and less messy) to start the roast in a hot oven. Once the fat is rendered, reduce the temperature and leave it alone. During the last 30 minutes of roasting, the vegetables are roasted with the pork, to complete the meal.
Porketta is extremely forgiving, unlikely to overcook, and perfect for entertaining or those evenings when everyone is running late. You want the meat to cook long enough that it becomes so very tender it falls off the bone when touched with a fork. This is why porketta should never be sliced, but pulled apart into shreds.
Leftover porketta is delicious rolled into tortillas with the leftover fennel and garlic, or seasoned with hot sauce and piled onto a crusty bun. You can tangle the shredded meat into spaghetti with your favorite sauce, scatter it over pizza, mound it on polenta, toss it into a stir-fry of vegetables and rice. Or sizzle the shredded pork in a hot pan until crispy and fold it into an omelet with green onions and cheese. It’s one great roast with many delicious meals.
Beth Dooley is the author of “In Winter’s Kitchen.” Find her at bethdooleyskitchen.com.