Arrosto di maiale con cipolline (Roast Pork with Pearl Onions)

Franksecondi piatti27 Comments

Arrosto di maiale con cipolline

While as we saw last week a traditional Italian Christmas Eve dinner is fish based, Christmas Day dinner is a carnivore’s delight. Capon is perhaps the most classic secondo (main course), but roast pork is also a popular choice. And an ancient one. The ancient Romans ate roast pork for Saturnalia, their winter solstice festival, and in the year 435, Pope Sixtus III urged Roman Catholics to eat pork at Christmas.

Arrosto di maiale con cipolline, or Roast Pork Loin with Pearl Onions, is easy to prepare, but it does need a little TLC. Pork loin is such a lean cut (especially these days) that, if you’re not careful, it can turn out dry and tasteless. Other lean meats, beef in particular, can be roasted rare or medium rare to prevent them from drying out. For pork, you need another approach.

This method of roasting, where the pork is first browned over high heat, then cooked low and slow with garlic and herbs in a covered casserole with just enough liquid to keep things from drying out—a technique Italians call arrosto morto—is a great way to solve the dilemma. Pearl onions, added during the roasting so they cook completely but don’t come apart, add savor to the dish.

I like to take things a step further and marinate the roast with a dry rub of finely minced rosemary, sage, garlic, salt and pepper—the classic mix called a salamoia bolognese. (It’s the perhaps the closest thing in Italy to what non-Italians like to call ‘Italian seasoning‘.)

You can serve your arrosto di maiale con cipolline as a main course and side dish in one. But if you wanted a separate side dish, you could accompany the dish with some buttery mashed potatoes or perhaps some sautéed greens. Serve it on a bed of polenta and you’ll have a hearty one course meal.

Of course, there’s no need to limit this dish to Christmas dinner. It’s such a simple thing to pull off you can enjoy arrosto di maiale con cipolline on any special occasion or even as a part of a simple family dinner for hearty eaters.

Ingredients

Serves 4-6

  • 1 boneless pork loin roast

For the marinade:

  • A few sprigs of fresh rosemary, finely minced
  • A few sprigs of fresh sage, finely minced
  • 2-3 cloves of garlic, peeled and finely minced
  • A good pinch of salt
  • A good grinding of pepper

For browning and roasting:

  • 1-2 cloves of garlic, peeled and lightly crushed
  • A sprig of fresh rosemary, left whole
  • White wine
  • 250g (8 oz) pearl onions, peeled
  • Salt and pepper
  • Olive oil

Directions

Marinating

Prepare the dry rub by mincing the garlic and herbs together into a fine paste, then mixing this paste with the salt and pepper. (Or just whiz it all together in a mini-chopper.) Rub this mixture all over the outside of the pork loin. Marinate in an airtight container or bag for at least two hours, or even better overnight in the fridge.

When you’re ready to cook, remove the roast from the fridge and let it come back to room temperature. Scrap off the rub.

Browning

Arm yourself with a flameproof (preferably oval) covered casserole dish that’s big enough to hold the roast and accommodate the onions around the edges of the roast in a single layer, like so:

Arrosto di maiale con cipolline

Heat the casserole over gentle heat, then pour in enough olive oil to cover the bottom. Add the garlic and rosemary and sauté for a few minutes, just until the garlic is lightly brown and the rosemary is giving off its heady aroma. Remove both.

Raise the heat to medium-high (but regulate the heat so the oil is not smoking) and add the pork loin. Sear it on all sides, about 2 minutes per side, turning it over until it’s uniformly golden brown. Pour over a splash of dry white wine, then cover.

Roasting

Roast the pork until cooked through and tender, but still nice and juicy. (See notes for tips on cooking times and internal temperatures.) You can do this on your stovetop over a gentle flame—the traditional method— or in a moderate (180C/350F) oven.

About 30-45 minutes before you figure the roast should be done cooking, add the pearl onions to the casserole, seasoning them well with salt and pepper.

Check the roast every 15 minutes or so. Baste the roast with its juices or, if needed, drizzle in a bit of wine or water, just enough to keep things moist. (NB: The roast shouldn’t be swimming in liquid. This is a casserole roast rather than a braise.) Give the onions a stir and, if you’re cooking on the stovetop, turn the roast over as well.

If you’d like to brown the roast a bit more, take the cover off the casserole for the last 15 minutes or so, and raise the oven temp to 200C/400F.

Serving

Remove the roast and let rest on a cutting board at least 5 minutes or as long as 15. Carve it into slices and lay them out on a platter with the onions around them. Pour the cooking juices over the slices and serve.

Arrosto di maiale con cipolline

Notes

For the casserole, an oval enameled cast iron Dutch oven sometimes called a “cocotte” is ideal. It holds heat perfectly and you can cook with it both on a stovetop and in the oven. Otherwise, a round Dutch oven will also do the trick. And in a pinch, you could use a skillet to brown the roast, then a ceramic covered baker for roasting.

Choosing and preparing the pork

The cut used for making arrosto di maiale con cipolline is lonza, or pork loin. Find yourself a boneless loin or sirloin roast, preferably with a nice layer of fat on at least one side. A trussed roast will help the roast keep its shape, although personally I wouldn’t bother trussing it yourself. While you could probably make the dish with pork tenderloin—a highly popular cut here in the US—it wouldn’t make for quite the impressive presentation that a full sized roast would.

As mentioned at the top, the dry rub marinade is optional. Most Italian recipes don’t call for it. But I think it adds great flavor to a cut that is, truth be told, a bit on the bland side. No need to be too fussy about scraping off every bit of the rub before the initial browning, but I do recommend it. Otherwise, the garlic tends to burn and rosemary, too, develops a bitter taste when exposed to high heat.

Aim for an internal temperature of 63-70C/145-160F, which should take about 45 minutes per kilo/20-25 minutes per pound. Bear in mind, you’ve already partially cooked the meat by browning all over it before roasting, and the internal temperature will continue to rise as it rests afterwards. Exact roasting times will depend on how you like your pork and how thick the roast is. It’s a bit of guessing game, but as always, it’s best to test with a meat thermometer to be sure.

Even though stovetop cooking is the more traditional technique—back in the day, few households in Italy had ovens—I actually prefer oven roasting for its more even heat, which makes it unnecessary to turn the roast. Just leave it fatty side up and baste as indicated.

And while rest after roasting isn’t strictly necessary, it allows the muscle fibers to relax and internal juices to redistribute more evenly throughout the meat, producing a more tender and juicy result. I also find that a roast slices more neatly.

Choosing the pearl onions

For arrosto di maiale con cipolline, you want white pearl onions. They are often sold unpeeled in net bags, in which case you’ll obviously need to peel them, admittedly a rather tedious task. A brief blanching in boiling water will make peeling easier. Happily, where I live I can find pre-peeled pearl onions, which saves you the bother. And if you can’t find fresh, there’s always frozen. Not your best option, but a viable one.

As mentioned in the recipe, figure 30-45 minutes cooking time for fresh onions, give or take. Again, exactly cooking time will depend on how large your onions are. (Their size can vary a lot.) If your onions are on the large size and your roast small enough to cook in 45 minutes, then you can add the onions to the casserole as soon as the roast is browned. Let them brown lightly, then add your wine and proceed from there.

Frozen onions are partially cooked before freezing, so they take a lot less time. Refer the instructions on the package for when to add them to the casserole. In either case, the onions should be perfectly tender but hopefully not falling apart. If for any reason the onions aren’t done when the roast is, remove the roast to a serving platter (tented to stay warm) and simmer the onions until tender.

Variations

In some renditions of arrosto di maiale con cipolline, the roast is browned in a skillet on the stovetop, then transferred to an open baking dish. It then roasts uncovered in the oven. This method has the advantage of producing a browner roast and more intense pan juices. But it risks drying out the pork, especially if you’re dealing with the super-lean pork that we have here in the US.

Making ahead

Arrosto di maiale con cipolline is best when made in the moment. You can let the roast rest for up to 15 minutes, or a bit more, enough time to have your first course. That said, if you really must make it ahead (or if you have leftovers) you can slice the roast, lay the slices over the onions and gently reheat them in their pan juices on the stovetop right before serving.

Arrosto di maiale con cipolline

Roast Pork Loin with Pearl Onions

Ingredients

  • 1 boneless pork loin roast

For the dry rub

  • A few sprigs of fresh rosemary finely minced
  • A few sprigs of fresh sage finely minced
  • 2-3 cloves garlic peeled and finely minced
  • A good pinch of salt
  • A good grinding of pepper

For browning and roasting

  • 1-2 cloves garlic peeled and lightly crushed
  • A sprig of fresh rosemary left whole
  • White wine
  • 250g 8 oz pearl onions peeled
  • Salt and pepper
  • Olive oil

Instructions

Marinating

  • Prepare the dry rub by mincing the garlic and herbs together into a fine paste, then mixing this paste with the salt and pepper. (Or just whiz it all together in a mini-chopper.) Rub this mixture all over the outside of the pork loin. Marinate in an airtight container or bag for at least two hours, or even better overnight in the fridge.
  • When you're ready to cook, remove the roast from the fridge and let it come back to room temperature. Scrap off the rub.

Browning

  • Arm yourself with a flameproof (preferably oval) covered casserole dish that's big enough to hold the roast and accommodate the onions around the edges of the roast in a single layer.
  • Heat the casserole over gentle heat, then pour in enough olive oil to cover the bottom. Add the garlic and rosemary and sauté for a few minutes, just until the garlic is lightly brown and the rosemary is giving off its heady aroma. Remove both.
  • Raise the heat to medium-high (but regulate the heat so the oil is not smoking) and add the pork loin. Sear it on all sides, about 2 minutes per side, turning it over until it's uniformly golden brown. Pour over a splash of dry white wine, then cover.

Roasting

  • Roast the pork until cooked through and tender, but still nice and juicy about 45 minutes per kilo/20-25 minutes per pound. You can do this on your stovetop over a gentle flame or in a moderate (180C/350F) oven.
  • About 30-45 minutes before you figure the roast should be done cooking, add the pearl onions to the casserole, seasoning them well with salt and pepper.
  • Check the roast every 15 minutes or so. Baste the roast with its juices or, if needed, drizzle in a bit of wine or water, just enough to keep things moist. Give the onions a stir and, if you're cooking on the stovetop, turn the roast over as well.
  • If you'd like to brown the roast a bit more, take the cover off the casserole for the last 15 minutes or so, and raise the oven temp to 200C/400F.

Serving

  • Remove the roast and let rest on a cutting board at least 5 minutes or as long as 15. Carve it into slices and lay them out on a platter with the onions around them. Pour the cooking juices over the slices and serve.

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27 Comments on “Arrosto di maiale con cipolline (Roast Pork with Pearl Onions)”

  1. What a lovely, aromatic dish, perfect to sooth the winter blues. I used to make Martha Stewart’s Mother’s Roast Pork dish that was packed with garlic and marjoram. Not sure why I stopped making it because it was definitely a favourite. I’ll have to try your version. Wishing you and yours a happy and healthy new year, Frank.

  2. I had no idea about the connection between roasted pork and Saturnalia! I thought Saturnalia was just wine. 🙂 This sounds like an absolutely delicious recipe…and perfect for the colder winter nights that are ahead of us. Happy New Year to you and your family, my friend! P.S. You are totally right about pearl onions. Peeling those things is tedious at best!

  3. We usually have pork for New Year’s and this sounds like a delicious way to start the new year. Merry Christmas Frank.

    1. Thanks so much, Barb. So glad you like it. And hope you also had a lovely Christmas. And a Happy New Year to you and yours.

  4. This is just beautiful, Frank. The meat looks perfectly cooked and succulent — not easy to do with a pork loin. I completely agree — pork loins these days have been over-trimmed so no fat remains for cooking. Yet, your method works so well despite that. Bravo. E Buon Natale a tutti!

  5. Buon Natale, Frank! Would it be sacrilege to swap out the onions with potatoes? We have an onion aversion in the household, it would be difficult to hide them with this recipe. Thanks for my weekly dose of Italy!

  6. Another classic! I’ve got some pork in the freezer, so this will make a delicious New Year’s Eve supper.
    Merry Christmas Frank.

  7. we don’t eat pork but the flavourings sound good. and i love those cute pearl onions. Merry Christmas Frank to you and yours.

  8. Frank I would love to serve this up on Christmas Day as an alternative to our Christmas Day Turkey. But I think there would be a family riot! Still I think this would go down really well any other time. It looks absolutely delicious. Hope you have a good Christmas!

  9. Such a simple combination as yet never attempted in this kitchen . . . hot summer days notwithstanding that has to be corrected soonest! Am sending some of our warm winds up your way with tons of thanks and bestest of wishes for the festive season . . . blessings . . .

  10. Frank we have tried many recipes, they all looked so tasty. Thank you for keeping our mouths so watery. BUON NATALE! Nick

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