The first ingredient of a traditional porchetta recipe is a small whole pig. This alone explains why I’ve never tried the dish at home, despite my deep affection for it.
Once you have your pig, you need to split it open and debone it before smearing the flesh with a paste of garlic, rosemary and fennel. That’s the easy part.
Then you return the cleaned innards, roll the thing up and spit-roast it overnight until the skin crackles and gleams. Served thinly sliced and piled into a panini, it makes one of the great sandwiches of Italy, though hard to find or to make here.
There are shortcut versions, one of which I tried. I took an entire pork loin, brined it, covered it with the herb paste and tied it up in a butterflied pork belly. It roasted to mahogany perfection in less than three hours. Easier and faster, to be sure, but not something I could whip up on a weeknight or feed to less than a crowd.
Instead, when I want the flavors of a porchetta, I stuff the classic herb paste into a smaller and more manageable cut.
Thick pork chops work well here. Simply cut a pocket into each chop so that you have somewhere to stuff the paste. The thicker your chop, the easier it is to slice that pocket in the center and not slice through the top or bottom of the meat.
Since porchetta is an Italian dish, there are as many variations in the seasonings as there are Italians doing the seasoning. In Rome, rosemary dominates the blend, while the Umbrians tend to play up crushed wild fennel fronds. Lemon zest may or may not make an appearance.
I always use the lemon zest. And since I particularly like the sweet, licorice note of fennel with pork, I heighten it with a sprinkle of fennel seeds along with the fronds. If you’re only lukewarm on fennel, keep the fronds but leave out the seeds.
You’ll note that this recipe calls for the fennel fronds but not the bulb. Slice the bulb into a fennel salad to serve alongside, maybe dressed with olive oil and topped with shaved Parmesan. Or next time you use fennel for something else, save the fronds to use here. This porchetta variation comes together so quickly, you can make it on a whim.
To see a printable version of the recipe, click on the link below:
HEAT oven to 350 degrees. Pat pork chops dry and, using a very sharp paring knife, cut a large pocket into the fat-covered edge of each chop. Season chops all over with 1 teaspoon salt, including inside pockets.
GRATE zest from lemon and put in a small bowl. Cut lemon lengthwise in quarters for serving.
USE a mortar and pestle or the flat side of a knife, mash garlic with a pinch of salt until you get a paste. Add to the bowl with the lemon zest and stir in rosemary, red pepper flakes, fennel seeds, 2 tablespoons fennel fronds and 1 tablespoon olive oil.
DIVIDE filling between pork chops, stuffing some inside pockets and rubbing the rest on the outside.
HEAT a large ovenproof skillet over high heat and add 1 tablespoon olive oil. Sear pork chops on one side for 5 minutes, or until golden brown. Gently turn over chops and cook for another minute, then transfer skillet to oven. Cook until meat is just done, about 5 to 10 minutes longer (internal temperature should read 135 degrees on a meat thermometer). Transfer pork chops to a plate, tent with foil, and let rest for 10 minutes before serving. Garnish with fennel fronds and lemon wedges. Yield: 2 servings