Cooking large pigs roasted on a spit is a festive dish in many parts of Italy. Ariccia is a town south of Rome famous for its maiale (pork) especially popular at festivals and sold as street food.
Smaller versions of this dish are cooked in homes – the piglet is called a maialino di latte (it is still being fed by its mother’s milk) and the cooked dish is called porchetta (roast suckling pig) a popular dish in in the Lazio region of Italy and Rome is its principal city.
This maialino di latte- milk fed /suckling (and one other piglet) was cooked by a chef at Libertine, a French restaurant in North Melbourne. It was one of the courses for a festive occasion – a farewell lunch for friends who were going to live overseas for six months. It was also their twentieth wedding anniversary.
The piglet needs a fair sized oven. In villages in rural Italy the piglet was often roasted in the local baker’s large wood-burning oven – this would be made available to the local residents usually on a Sunday when the baker was not likely to be working.
In Italy some cooks bone the piglet before cooking – this makes carving and stuffing easier (usually a flavourful mixture of minced meat and often the organs of the pig).
The piglet can also be stuffed simply with herbs (regional Italian variations exist – in Sardinia it is called porceddu and it is likely to be flavoured with myrtle leaves, in Rome it could be rosemary and garlic and in other parts of Italy fennel seeds are used. Grated lemon rind also goes well.
Maialino is not something I cook, but I am familiar with this dish which is often cooked as the celebratory meal at New Year by some Italian families living in Australia (Porchetta). If you intend to use your oven, make sure that the piglet fits.
Begin preparations a day before cooking – the piglet will benefit from steeping in the herb mixture overnight.
Cooking time is approx. one hour per kilo (piglets available for sale in Australia are usually 7-10 kilos in weight or larger).
1 small suckling pig
extra virgin olive oil,1 cup for basting
wine (or water) approx 2 cups
Mixture to rub into piglet:
About 1 cup of fresh rosemary leaves cut finely, 3-4 tablespoons of crushed fennel seeds, 6-10 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed, salt
(liberal amount), and black pepper, 1/2 cup of extra virgin olive oil.
Ensure that the cavity of the piglet is clean with organs removed.
Make the mixture that you will use to rub into the pig.
Make slashes on its skin (at least two over the hips and two over the shoulders and others evenly spaced elsewhere) and insert some of the mixture into the slashes and on the inside cavity.
Place the piglet on a wire rack, over a tray, cover it with a large plastic bag and place it in the fridge overnight (keeping the outside skin of the piglet dry will help the crackling to form).
Preheat your oven with the fan on to 220 C.
Place the piglet in an oiled roasting pan (belly down, with its legs close to its body and tied together with string).
To prevent burning wrap the ears and tail in foil.
Place about 1 cup of white wine in the bottom of the pan to create steam and keep the meat succulent.
Rub the skin with more oil all and sprinkle salt over it (for crackling).
Place into the oven and roast it at 220C for 30 mins.
Lower the temperature to 200 C and cook it for the required number of hours. Turn the pan (but not the piglet – handle it gently) around every 30 mins and baste it with more oil and place some more wine
(or water) in the bottom of the pan each time.
Increase the temperature to 210-220 C in the final 30 minutes of cooking – remove the foil from the ears to allow the whole piglet to brown. The piglet should be a golden brown
Take the piglet out of the oven and leave to rest for 20-30 minutes to set.
Add more water or wine to the roasting pan and make a sughetto (gravy)
Carve it and serve with the sughetto.
PORK SALUMI (smallgoods). Tasting Australia 2010