11 April 2013

AUNTIE PASTA: Tuscany's Black Gold

CHIAVERI, Italy - This week’s recipe for roast pork was developed by Chef Enrico Casarini of the Antica Tenuta Le Casacce in Val d’Orcia, in Tuscany. He’s a big fan of a particular breed of pork, the black, Macchiaiola Maremmana, which only a few years ago were on the verge of being extinct. But  thanks to the University of Florence, the European Union and a handful of farmers, that’s all changed now.

You Talkin' About Me?
The Macchiaiola Maremmana are a breed of pigs, different from their more popular cousins, the fat and sassy pink pigs. First of all they are black, lean and have long snouts, and prefer a diet of hazelnuts, truffles and roots which they forge for themselves. In the 1800’s, Macchiaiola pigs roamed wild in Tuscany and Lazio, particularly in the area near the towns of Livorno and Grossetto, known as the Maremmana. 

But because pink pigs grow faster, grow bigger and don’t need the roaming room that the Macchiaiola need, farmers started cross breeding them, thinking they would get the best of both worlds – pig worlds that is. But it didn’t quite work out that way.

Chef Casarini
One of the side effects of the aggressive cross-breeding program was that any piglets that were born who resembled the Macchiaiola a little too much, were killed. As a result, there were fewer and fewer Macchiaiola around, in fact so many of them disappeared that at one point they were considered an extinct breed.

Then a few years ago, researchers from the University of Florence found a group of famers in the hills of Tuscany, who were still raising them. The University, which is involved with the European Union’s VAGAL project to recuperate ancient foods that are no longer available, added the Macchiaiola to the project, and the farmers were invited to join in. Last word is that the Macchiaiola are increasing in number as are the number of farmers interested in investing time and money in bringing this almost lost breed back to its natural habitat  – and that can only be a good thing.

 View from the Tenuta La Casacce
Chef Casarini is a big fan of the Macchiaiola. He says they are very tasty with meat that has a compact grain that helps it to stay juicy and not dry out. Their meat also has a distinct taste, different from the common pork roast taken from pink pigs, because of the Macchiaiola’s diet. 

According to the Chef, the most common mistake people when cooking pork browning the meat on too high a flame, which dries out the surface.  He said this can be avoided by turning the meat often, and then cooking the roast in red wine. And even though today’s recipe was developed for the Macchiaiola, it would work just as well with a regular pork loin roast.  

 Roast Pork
This recipe is very similar to a recipe I have used for years with great success, but with one difference, I think his oven temperature is too high. My normal cooking temperature for roast pork is 180 C/350 F not 200C/400 F, but I’m giving you the recipe as I found it. Use your own best judgment.
Arista Black Pork in Honey Sauce
Serves 4-6
1 kg pork loin
extra virgin Tuscan olive oil
pinch of kosher salt
10 sage leaves
2 sprigs of thyme
2 sprigs of rosemary
2 sprigs of marjoram
5-6 bay leaves
2-3 cloves of garlic
whole wheat flour
2 bottles of red wine
1 tablespoon honey
Chopped peeled almonds (about 1 tablespoon) Optional

Prepare the pork by massaging it with a little oil, finely chopped herbs and salt. The smells are prepared by pulverizing in a small wooden mortar the salt with half the herbs. Make 4 or 5 small slits in the meat with the tip of a knife and insert a half a clove of garlic in each slit.

Brown the meat in a little olive oil, over medium-high heat until a compact crust is formed, turning often to insure the meat doesn’t burn.  

Transfer the meat into a roasting pan, and add fresh oil. Roast at 200 ° C for fifteen minutes.  Then sprinkle the meat with a little flour, pour in a good amount of red wine and add the remaining chopped herbs and continue cooking at the same temperature for about 1 hour.

Remove the meat from the roasting pan and place it on a serving dish, and let it rest while you prepare the sauce.

For the sauce, strain the pan liquid into a saucepan and cook it over medium-low heat to reduce it, stirring often.

Once the liquid has been reduced, add the honey, mixing it well with a whisk.

Slice the meat thin, drizzle the sauce over it, sprinkle with a teaspoon or so of chopped almonds and drizzle a little extra virgin olive oil over the top.

Antica Tenuta Le Casacce
Località Casacce in Val d’Orcia
(16 km da Montalcino)
58038 Seggiano (Gr)
Telefono +39  ­0564 950965

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