I’ve had porchetta made from a whole pig roasted on a spit in a small Italian town on market day; it was delicious. I’ve also had a porchetta sandwich at Di Palo’s on Mott Street in the rain; it was also delicious. Recently for work I made a pork belly (dried, brined, rubbed, tied, and roasted over 3 days) for a chef’s interpretation of porchetta, and it was delicious, too. All of these were authentic and fantastic, but all were all labor intensive beyond words. I wanted to find a way to capture that beautiful garlic-fennel-rosemary-pepper-pork flavor on a pizza without spending 3 days cooking. I suspected that a pork butt would be the ideal cut of meat (read: tasty and affordable) to infuse with a deeply aromatic spice rub if I slow-roasted it in a low oven. My suspicions bore out; in a mere 3 hours I had an abridged version of porchetta ready and waiting to be scattered on a crust. For more intense flavor, rub the pork the night before you plan to cook and let it marinate in the fridge.
Preheat the oven to 325°F.
In a small skillet, combine the fennel seeds, juniper berries (if using), and peppercorns and toast over medium heat until fragrant, 2 to 3 minutes, tossing frequently. Remove from the heat and either grind in a spice grinder or coffee grinder, or coarsely crush in an old-fashioned mortar and pestle (this is how I do it).
Roughly chop the rosemary leaves. In a small bowl, combine the crushed toasted spices with the oil, garlic, rosemary, and salt and mix well.
Pat the pork dry with paper towels and place it in a roasting pan (with or without a rack—it doesn’t really matter, but I don’t bother). Rub the pork all over with the spice rub, being sure to get the rub into all the little crevices. Transfer the pork to the oven and roast until the pork can be easily “pulled” with a fork, 3 to 3½ hours. Check the pork every hour or so and baste it with any fat in the bottom of the pan.
When the pork is cool enough to handle, shred it with a fork (or your hands if it’s really cooled off). Set aside a cup or so of the meat for the pizza and portion off the rest to freeze for future pizzas—or enjoy as you desire.
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