Domesticity Nouveau

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Pancetta Wrapped Stuffed Pork Loin

By now, you know I'm proud to be what I consider a lazy cook.  I prefer simple and tasty meals over those that take a lot of time and fussing.  Every once in a while, though, I get the itch to put on my fancy pants and bust out something glorious.

I started my journey into charcuterie this year and made pancetta.  For those of you unfamiliar with pancetta, it is commonly described as Italian bacon.  This comparison is sadly lacking as pancetta is all the glory of bacon, but so much more complex and wonderful!  It is flavored with garlic, juniper, black pepper and thyme, allowed to cure in a dry rub for a few days, then rolled, tied, and hung up to air dry for several weeks.  It develops a deep flavor that only fermented meats, like salami and such, can claim.

Pancetta’s Italian origins were the inspiration for the filling of the stuffed pork loin.  Instead of making an actual pesto and dirtying a dish (I’m still lazy even when I have my fancy pants on), I left the ingredients in rough form. 

Despite there being a lot of steps to making this stuffed pork loin, they are all simple.  If you can play whack-a-mole, you can flatten the loin.  If you can chop some basil and nuts, you can create the filling.  If you can roll up a swim towel, you can roll the loin.  If you can tie your shoes, you can tie up the loin.

Pancetta Wrapped Stuffed Pork Loin

3-4lb pork loin
1 lb pancetta
4 cloves garlic, minced
Handful of fresh basil,
Handful of pitted Kalamata
     olives, chopped
1 cup chopped walnuts, toasted
1 cup mayonnaise
2-3 oz parmesan, grated
1 tsp aleppo pepper
Fresh ground pepper

Butterfly and flatten pork loin to 3/4 inch thick.  On a piece of waxed paper or parchment, place 5-6 long pieces of butcher twine.  Next, lay slices of pancetta to the width of your pork loin on top of the strings, overlapping to form a solid sheet.  Lay pork loin on top of pancetta sheet, with fat cap face down, farthest from you.  Rub minced garlic and a light dusting of fresh ground pepper evenly across loin.  Spread mayonnaise evenly to 1 inch from the edges and 2 inches from the top and bottom  Evenly distribute kalamata olives, basil, walnuts, parmesan and aleppo pepper on the mayonnaise.  Using the waxed paper to get you started, begin rolling the loin snugly, being careful to keep the strings out of the rolling process.  Once rolled, tie loin with butcher twine, starting in the middle and working your way to the ends.  Place on a baking rack.  Bake at 450 degrees for 20 minutes.  Crack oven door and set temperature to 325 degrees, closing door when oven begins heating again.  Roast at 325 degrees for approximately 30 minutes a pound, until internal temperature reaches 145 degrees.  Check temperature at 1 hour and adjust time from there.   Once done, remove from oven, tent with foil and allow to rest for 15 minutes.  Remove twine and carefully slice into medallions for serving.  Gracefully accept ooohs and awes from your family and friends.

And now some Q&A...

What do you mean to butterfly the pork loin?
Carefully slice through the middle of your pork loin to about 1 inch from the other side, like you are making it a book.  Loins tend to be more of an oval than a round.  Make this cut through the “tall” part of the oval.  Make one initial and confident cut, and then follow up with several shallower and gentler slices until you are one inch from cutting all the way through.

How do I flatten the pork loin?
Lay down several layers of plastic wrap, overlapping as needed to accommodate the size of your pork piece.  Place the pork on top and then cover with a few more layers of plastic wrap.  The trick to laying the plastic wrap on the counter without battling the cling, is to gently wipe the counter with a slightly damp sponge or towel.  Place the box of wrap at the edge of the counter closest to you, and pull it out away from you, allowing the moisture to catch the wrap.  I promise the plastic wrap struggles will most likely be the greatest frustration of making this meal.

Once encased in plastic wrap blanket, take something heavy and gently pound the pork loin.  You’ll want to use the smooth side of a kitchen mallet, not the sides used for tenderizing.  If you don’t have a kitchen mallet, try a small frying pan, rolling pin, a can of tomatoes, brick wrapped in several layers of plastic wrap, anything that is clean, heavy, and sturdy.  Start gently till you get the feel for the process, too strong of a whack and you might create a blowout and a hole. 

What length should I cut the twine?
About 18-24 inches so that you have plenty to tie the rolled loin with.  Too short and it can be hard to tie.  Too long and all you have to do is trim any excess once tied.  Error on the side of too much.

I can’t find pancetta, can I use bacon?
Of course!  The spiral shape of pancetta is lovely and helps to form an even sheet that won’t slide about like strips of bacon would.  If you are using bacon, I would advise weaving your strips together so that they form one cohesive sheet.  If you just aren’t into the idea of playing bacon weaver, make sure to lay your strips perpendicular to the strings so they will all be secure when rolled and tied.

Why do I have to put the fat cap away from me?
When you finish rolling, the portion that is farthest from you will be the top of your rolled loin.  You want to keep the fat cap on top so that it can baste the meat as it roasts.  If it were on the bottom, all that lovely juiciness would just be in the bottom of the pan and your meat will miss out on the extra moisture that it provides... you want succulent meat!

What’s with the mayonnaise?
Pork loin is an incredibly lean cut of meat.  The mayonnaise helps to keep the meat moist, as it is mostly made of oil.  It also helps to glue the ingredients together so they don’t slide around when you are rolling.  You want to keep it about an inch from the edges and two inches from the top and bottom.  As you roll, the filling will squish out to fill the empty space.  If you spread to the edges, your filling will squish out from your roll and you’ll lose all your tasty work! 

Hey, you didn’t mention salt!  You always mention salt!  Why no salt?
The pancetta  has plenty of salt for this recipe.  Along with the parmesan cheese in the filling and the kalamata olives, there is no need to for anything more than a few grinds of black pepper.

How much is a handful of basil?  Can I use dried?
Um, well... about one basil plant from Trader Joes.  Maybe one packed cup, not too tight, not too loose.  Dried basil isn’t going to have that pesto flavor.  Basil is one herb that really changes its flavor when dried.  If it is all you have, go for it, better to cook than not too cook, but the flavor won’t be the same.

What is chiffonade of basil?
It’s a fancy French word for thin slices.  You can just as easily chop the basil, but it bruises easily.  The bruising doesn’t really matter since it will be cooked inside the rolled meat, but this is an opportunity to practice a new technique.  Take the whole leaves of basil and make a stack, starting with the bigger leaves on the bottom.  Gently roll the leaves lengthwise and gently draw the blade of a sharp knife across the leaves to slice.  Pressing down will cause the bruising, which turns dark.  Again, perfection doesn’t matter here, but I don’t like to miss an opportunity to practice good techniques for when it does matter.

How do I toast the walnuts?  Can I use pine nuts instead?
I do mine in the toaster oven.  I set the oven to about 350-400 degrees; spread them evenly on the baking sheet lined with foil, and toast for about 3-5 minutes.  As soon as you can smell them, pull them and toss them into a cool bowl to stop the toasting.  You can always add more time, you can’t salvage burnt nuts.  No one likes burnt nuts.  You can also toast them in a skillet over medium high heat, but because of the nooks and crannies of walnuts, only the peaks get toasted and the valleys miss out.  Pine nuts work great also, they are just more expensive.

Do I have to use pesto flavors?
Nope, you can use whatever flavors you would like, just make sure your pieces of ingredients are chopped fine enough to be easily rolled.  Another idea is thyme or sage with finely diced apples and toasted pecans.  Gorgonzola, pecans and cranberries would be lovely.  Keep the mayonnaise, though, for the moisture and binding of the stuffing ingredients.  If you would prefer, you can mix all the filling ingredients together in a bowl and then spread it evenly, it just makes another dish to wash if you do.

How do I roll this thing?
Lift up the edge of the waxed paper closest to you and start rolling the loin into itself and away from you.  As your roll takes form, make sure to keep the strings free and peel back the waxed paper as you go so it doesn’t get caught either.  Don’t wrap so tightly that you squeeze the filling out, but not so loosely that it doesn’t look like a roll.  Go slowly; be gentle and patient with yourself and the pork loin.  When you get almost to the end, reverse and roll the top toward you.  This has your roast finishing with the top on top and ready to tie. 

I just tie it up?
Your twine pieces should be evenly spaced still, but if not, give them a little adjustment.  Start tying in the center and work your way out, this assures that the roll is even without bulges in the middle.  This is the one step you might want to call in an extra set of hands for.  It is by no means necessary, but it might make someone feel important if they get to help you :) Tie the knots just tight enough to keep the roll in its form, but not so tight that you squish out the filling.  Trim the excess twine.

Do I have to use a baking rack?
Of course not, but it assures that the pancetta becomes crispy all around.  Without the rack the bottom won’t crisp up, but it will still be YUMYY!

What’s with the two oven temperatures?
Old family secret!  It sears the outside with the initial high temperature, creating a lovely crust (crispy pancetta in this case) and allows for the benefits of slow roasted meat, which is more succulent.  After the initial blast at 450 degrees for 20 minutes, pop the door open for 5 minutes or so until the temperature comes down to 325 degrees. 

At 30 minutes a pound, a 3 pound loin would take an hour and 30 minutes, but you say to check at 1 hour, why is that?
Every piece of meat cooks a little different.  The time and oven temperature are just a guideline and a thermometer is the only true way to know if your meat is done, or overdone.  I prefer to check at 1 hour so I can avoid all possibilities of over cooked meat (nasty!).  Every oven is different, as well, so what works in my oven may be different in yours.   Checking at one hour also gives you an opportunity to lay a piece of foil over the top if it is looking like it might burn.  If you do need to use foil, don’t wrap it tightly as this will create steam and ruin your crispy exterior, simply lay it on the top.

How do I slice this lovely after it has finished resting?
Using a very sharp knife, pull across the crispy pancetta and loin to slice it.  Pressing down with a knife will crumble all your lovely crispiness and mush the lovely spiral shape.  Carefully move from cutting board to serving dish or plates and enjoy!


  1. This is definitely one the best submissions we've ever rec'd on Chowstalker! Thank you for sharing. And I absolutely love your about page and everything else on your blog. The only thing that could make me happier right now is to find out you lived within driving distance and that you had leftovers. :-)

  2. I need to run to the store and get some pork!!

  3. I just made this on a smaller scale, my pork tender lion was about 1 lb. I substituted almonds for walnuts and I used about 2 - 3 tbsp of mayo. I turned out great! I will be making this for a larger crowd soon

  4. Bon Appetit magazine had a somewhat similar recipe recently. But your photos and techniques and explanations are better than theirs and the flavors in your recipe sound like they go together better. Very nicely done! Really enjoyed your post and I will definitely be trying this recipe soon.

  5. I made this and gave the recipe to my sister. We made it for a big family function this weekend and everyone raved about it. I will be keeping this one.

  6. This comment has been removed by the author.

  7. I am so happy to hear you had a success for your family gathering!!! Thanks for taking the time to let me know you enjoyed your efforts :)

    1. Hi there,

      This (panchetta wrapped stuffed pork loin) looks amazing. I want to try it on a camping trip and actually make it over an open fire on a BBQ grate, but have a few concerns and questions that maybe you can assist with or at least speculate about. (We hold a progressive dinner where each course needs to be cooked--at least partially--over the campfire, that's why I'm going that route vs. just with charcoal in a small bbq.)
      1.) Because we are camping I want to make as much ahead of time as possible. Would it be possible to pound out the loin a day ahead of time and then put in fridge/cooler? Would the meat "bruise" or suffer any other unwanted affects?
      2.) I know I can get a good sear on it over the campfire, but I'm not so sure about slow cooking it the rest of the way. My thoughts were covering the grate with the lid of a small weber bbq, or having the loin cut in half from the start and putting them into a large cast iron dutch over and trying to slow roast them in there.

      Any thoughts ideas?

    2. Well here are some thoughts (for what they are worth :)

      I don't see any reason why you couldn't have this prepped up ahead of time for a camping trip. I have pounded out many meats the day before I cook them for a gathering and never noticed any ill effects. The only thing that *might* be effected with time would be the fresh basil; it would likely lose its bright green color due to oxidation, but the flavor loss wouldn't be drastic.

      As far as cooking it over the campfire... I have never attempted something that ambitious :) I imagine it is going to get a marvelous sear from the flames that will taste lovely! My thoughts lean toward the dutch oven since that will come closer to roasting in an oven than just grilling on the grate. I haven't ever cooked any large pieces of meat over a campfire, but perhaps researching how others have done pork roasts or beef roasts on a campfire would give you some ideas on how to approach that question. Geeeez it sounds fun to do over a campfire!! I wish I had some more concrete answers for you. I think with careful tending, you could grill it easily, just making sure to rotate regularly for even cooking and adjust for the personality of the fire (i.e. hot spots).

      Have an excellent camping trip! I hope your meal is successful and you get lots of ooohs and awes of appreciation for your efforts :)

    3. Thanks! We're going weekend of June 8th and I'll post the results here of how it goes. Think I will try the dutch oven. And I'll just prep the basil at the campsite. I was mostly concerned with getting the loin ready. OK, can't wait to try this!