I grew up in South Philly and have vivid memories—colorful sights, joyous sounds, and delicious smells—of block parties and family celebrations centered on a whole pig slowly roasting on a spit, a tradition brought to the area by immigrants from the Abruzzo region of Italy.
When it was time to eat, the meat was sliced and served with bright broccoli rabe (the bitterness was a perfect foil for the rich pork) and/or piled high on a hearty Sarcone’s roll (if you know, you know). The signature Italian porchetta spice blend—powered by loads of garlic and herbs—perfumed every bite.
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10 ingredients. 45 minutes. Quick, easy, and fresh weeknight recipes.
While I’ve seen plenty of recipes for porchetta Abruzzese that call for a roasted pork loin or shoulder, these recipes never fully aligned with my experiences enjoying the dish.
Here, I wanted to create a porchetta Abruzzese that highlighted my favorite elements of these memorable pig roasts—the crackly skin, juicy pork belly, and succulent loin—without needing to roast an entire hog.
After testing various cuts, both alone and in combination, I landed on a compelling pairing of lean, meaty tenderloin wrapped up in deliciously fatty, rich pork belly. Together, these cuts provided a range of flavors and textures that approach the appeal of a whole roasted pig.
Porchetta AbruzzeseThe ultimate pork roast.
But using two cuts of pork that have different desired temperatures for proper cooking (140 degrees for the tenderloin and 190 degrees for the belly) presented some challenges in how to get everything cooked just right. For the belly, the meat needed to be tender and the skin crisp; for the tenderloin, the prime objective was to keep it tender and juicy and not overcook it.
Part of the solution was to first pound the slab of pork belly to an even thickness. This tenderized the meat and promoted even cooking. I rolled the pounded belly around the tenderloin and tied it all together into a neat cylinder to ensure that the tenderloin cooked to its proper temperature while wrapped in the pork belly “blanket.”
This arrangement meant that the delicate tenderloin was insulated and basted by the fatty belly as it all cooked together. It took a good bit of testing to arrive at the proper weight and measurements of each cut of meat in the final recipe, which is crucial for proper assembly and cooking time. And salting both cuts in advance proved essential for drawing out the most flavor from the pork.
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For the seasoning blend, I included the key flavors most associated with porchetta: garlic, red pepper flakes, fennel seeds, and a blend of fresh sage and rosemary. Deviating slightly from tradition, I added orange zest for a pop of citrus flavor and to help balance the richness of the pork. Orange slices shingled across the center of the pork belly (inside the roll) added moisture and complemented the zest.
Low-and-slow cooking from the start nicely rendered the pork belly fat without scorching, and a blast of high heat at the end ensured irresistibly crispy skin.
This dish takes some work and time, but it is truly delicious and showstoppingly beautiful—perfect for a holiday table.
There’s even an accompanying food-processor sauce, Mint Salsa Verde, that will help dress things up.
Mint Salsa VerdeA versatile green sauce that comes together in the food processor.
That said, there’s no judgment from me if you happen to have access to some Sarcone’s rolls to indulge in a less formal, but still festive, celebratory vibe.