Like panzanella, arista alla fiorentina is one of the signature dishes of Tuscan cookery. And like so many Tuscan dishes, it is as simple as it is good.
1 pork loin roast
Olive oil, q.b.
For the dry marinade:
2-3 cloves of garlic
2-3 sprigs of fresh rosemary
1-2 sprigs of fresh sage (optional)
Salt and pepper
You will also need:
Butcher’s twine for trussing the roast
To start, you take a nice pork loin roast. Try to find loin that is not too lean–very lean meat will be less flavorful and has a higher likelihood of turning out dry. Depending on from what part of the loin the roast is taken, it may have had a bone removed from its interior and been tied. If so, untie the roast. If not, then ‘butterfly’ the roast so that it opens up like a book.
Rub the inside of the roast with dry marinate made from rosemary leaves, garlic, salt and pepper. (Some recipes also call for sage.) This marinade can be chopped in a food processor, but do not over-process–they marinade should remain rather rough. I like to include whole or crushed peppercorns rather than ground pepper–it adds more flavor and texture, and I rather like the way the odd peppercorn will explode in your mouth when you bite into it. Then roll and tied up the roast. With the aid of a paring knife, ‘lard’ the roast by inserting more of the marinade into the meat at regular intervals. Rub the exterior with any remaining mixture and pour over a bit of olive oil (see photo below). You can start to roast the arista immediately, but I find it has more flavor if you leave the meat to marinate for several hours, or even overnight.
According to the great gastronome Pellegrino Artusi, in his masterwork La scienca in cucina e l’arte di mangiar bene (Science in the Kitchen and the Art of Eating Well), the best way to roast an arista is on a spiedo, or spit. If your barbecue has a rotisserie feature, then skewer the roast and place it above a drip pan in the barbecue, into which you can pour some white wine. Then grill over moderate indirect heat (i.e., leaving the burners directly under the roast off or, if using a charcoal grill, pushing the charcoal to the sides), lighting the rotisserie burner if you have one to aid in searing the roast to a beautiful golden brown. If you don’t have a rotisserie burner, you may want to turn up the bottom burners to aid browing.
Depending on the size of your roast, let it cook for 45-60 minutes. Check the internal temperature after about 30-45 minutes. Pork is well done at 160 degrees Farenheit (about 70 Celcius). Remove the roast from the fire a few degrees under this, as it will continue to cook. Be careful not to overcook the pork loin, which is always rather lean and will dry out. Let it rest at least about 20-30 minutes before serving. It can also be served at room temperature–in fact, if you ask me, it’s even better that way. (In fact, Artusi includes his recipe for arista in the chapter on rifreddi, or cold dishes.)
NB: Don’t throw out the drippings in the pan–they are delicious poured over the roast. Reduce them in a saucepan if they are too thin.
Arista is often served accompanied by roasted potatoes (which can be cooked in the drip pan or roasting pan) but this time, having eaten pasta as a first course, I opted for some spinaci ripassati in padella (see my Italian cookout post for the recipe).
NOTES: If your barbecue doesn’t have a rotisserie, it can be simply placed in a roasting pan and cooked over indirect heat. You can also simply roast the arista in a hot oven, like a regular pork roast. It will be perfectly delicious cooked this way as well. In fact, one advantage is that you can add your potatoes to the roasting pan–they will soak up the delicious pork juices in the process.
Arista can also be made with a bone-in pork loin roast, if you can find it. The bones provide extra flavor. In this case, however, butterflying does not work too well. I would ‘lard’ the roast with some of the dry marinade and apply the rest to the exterior. Although you could truss a bone-in roast, too, it stikes me as unnecessary.
Keep your leftovers. As mentioned above, to my taste, arista is actually even more delicious cold than warm. Thinly sliced, it makes a wonderful sandwich.
Arista has an interesting history. The story goes that the name, if not the dish itself, goes back to the Council of 1430, held in Florence, where emissaries from the Eastern and Western churches, made a vain attempt at reconciling the growing rift between the two branches of Christianity. But the Council was a culinary, if not a religious, success. The Greek-speaking emissaries from Constantinople dubbed the pork roast served there aristos, meaning excellent’ or ‘the best’. And the Italianized version arista has been used ever since to describe the dish.