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Stuffed Pork Loin, Filetto di Maiale Farcito

This is one of those dishes that will be quite tasty grilled, in summer, but will also be a pleasant roast in winter. And, it’s easy to do.

To serve 6:

  1. 2 boned pork loins trimmed of fat, 1 3/4 pounds (700 g) in all
  2. 1/4 pound (100 g) dried tomatoes
  3. A rib of celery
  4. 1/2 cup chopped pitted green olives
  5. 3/4 cup breadcrumbs
  6. 1 tablespoon minced fresh basil
  7. 1 teaspoon minced fresh rosemary needles
  8. Olive oil
  9. Salt and pepper to taste
  10. Butcher’s twine

Pull the strings from the celery if need be, and mince it. Mince the tomatoes too. Combine the celery with the tomatoes, olives, and herbs, and combine the mixture with the breadcrumbs, adding enough olive oil to make the stuffing moist and crumbly. Season the mixture to taste with salt and pepper.

Slice the pork loins almost completely through lengthwise so you can open them like a couple of books Spread the stuffing over them, shut them, and tie them up like a couple of salamis using the butcher’s twine. Rub them lightly with olive oil, and season them with salt and pepper.

At this point you have a choice: Grill or Oven?

To grill them, set them over fairly hot coals (you can hold your hand over for 5 seconds) and cook them for 20-25 minutes, turning them often.

To roast them, put them in a roasting pan and cook them in a preheated 400 F (200 C) oven for 25-30 minutes, turning them once or twice and basting them with pan drippings.

In either case, let them sit for a few minutes after they’re cooked, then remove the string and slice them fairly thickly. Serve them with a tossed salad. A wine? Because of the dried tomatoes and the olives, I would be tempted to go with a substantial white, for example a Greco di Tufo.


La Bombetta Pugliese: Street Food at its Finest

Bombette Pugliesi: Enjoy!

Bombette Pugliesi: Enjoy!

La Bombetta Pugliese is a specialty of the Valle D’Itria, south of Bari, and the folks at the Bombetta Pugliese stand in the street foods section of Torino’s Salone del Gusto didn’t mince words: “It’s not healthy!” they cried, and indeed there isn’t much healthy in a well-seasoned pork braciola swapped around a piece of cheese and grilled.

“But it’s good!” they howled.

And come people did, drawn also by the chest-thumping music they were playing and the wonderful aromas rising from their grill: they couldn’t keep up with demand.

In short, Bombette are an ultimate street food, though this hasn’t always been the case: Historically bombette were a meaty dish enjoyed (rarely) by the poorest of the poor, sharecroppers who took the trimmings nobody else was interested in – if it was fatty, so much the better because fat = calories = energy – wrapped it around a little cheese, and cooked them in the communal ovens butchers kept lit for their poorer clients. Even their size is rooted in poverty: they are small because small cooks faster, requiring less fuel.

Now bombette are a fixture at country fairs in Puglia, and people cook them over the coals when they have friends over.

Bombette Pugliesi: Ready to Grill!

Bombette Pugliesi: Ready to Grill!

To make Bombette Pugliesi you will need nicely marbled pork shoulder butt; the butchers of the Valle D’Itria say the animal should weigh between 160 and 180 k (350-400 pounds) and not be the result of intensive farming, because the meat will be better marbled.

The cheese is up to personal taste; some prefer Parmigiano or Grana, others pecorino (Sardo, not Romano, which is sharper and saltier), and others still Fontina, which melts. The important thing is to use a cheese of good quality.

Bombette Pugliesi: Over the Coals

Bombette Pugliesi: Over the Coals

The preparation of bombette is straight forward. Assuming you have a pound of meat, you will want about 3/4 pound of cheese, as well as salt, pepper, finely chopped rosemary needles, minced parsley, and – it you want – a hint of red pepper.

Crumble or finely dice the cheese and put it in a bowl with salt, pepper, parsley and  rosemary (go easy on the rosemary because it is powerful; I would figure a scant teaspoon of freshly chopped needles for this volume) to taste. Mix well.

Finely slice the shoulder butt to make pork braciole. Put them between slices of oven parchment and pound them with a meat pounder or the flat of a knife to thin them, and season them to taste with salt and pepper.

Bombette Pugliesi: Almost Done...

Bombette Pugliesi: Almost Done…

Put an equal amount of filling on each slice and roll the bombette up, folding in the sides as well to obtain packets of meat that will contain the cheese when it has been  melted by the heat of the fire. As you seal up each packet, slip it onto a skewer or kebab.

Continue until all is used up.

While you are preparing the meat, heat coals in your grill. The custom in Puglia is to use hardwood, and if you can it will give best results. Set the meat over the coals, which shouldn’t be too searing, and cook, turning the spits, until all sides of the bombette are nicely browned — 10 minutes in all, or perhaps a little more.

If you are at a street fair you will be given a paper cone filled with bombette and a slice or two of bread, and also a skewer with which to spear and eat the bombette. And be very happy. If you are with friends in the back yard or the den, divvy them up onto plates.

A wine? I’d go with a zesty Negroamaro.

Svizzere: Yes, That’s Italian for Hamburgers

Burgers (in a variety of flavors) in an Italian Market

Burgers (in a variety of flavors) in an Italian Market

Grilled meat — generally ground beef — patties are rarely called grilled meat patties, perhaps because it’s a long mouthful for a quick dish. There are several explanations for the English language term, hamburger, my favorite being that it derives from the grilled meat patties served to immigrants crossing the Atlantic on the Hamburg line in the 1800s.

Many of the immigrants had never seen anything like them before, continues this explanation, and therefore called them Hamburgers, a name they continued to use in the Americas. And since hamburgers are tasty if made with good quality meat, and easy to cook, soon everyone was making them.

In Italy hamburgers are instead called Svizzere, which is the feminine plural of Swiss (sing. Svizzera); according to Antonio Piccinardi it’s a “Milanese term indicating a pan-fried ground meat patty, similar to a Hamburger.” Why the Milanese should have called a ground beef patty a Svizzera is beyond me, but they did, and Svizzere were already quite common in Italy before companies like McD’s began to introduce American-style fast food.

And now in every Italian supermarket and butcher’s shop you will find a considerable variety of ready-to-cook Svizzere, including moderately fatty beef, lean beef, beef with pork, beef with turkey, beef with chicken, and many Svizzere with different kinds of herbs and flavorings mixed through the meat.

And, of course, you will find ground beef, both leaner and less lean, in addition to ground veal and ground pork.

To be quite honest, unless you are pressed for time, you will likely be better off buying ground meat and making the patties at home. Why? Because you can tailor the meat to your taste, combining leaner and fattier grinds to get it just the way you like it, or using a mixture of meats, say beef and pork sausage. And you can also add other ingredients to the ground meat, from cooked onions through soy sauce, and also herbs and spices such as parsley or garlic, or paprika.

In terms of grind you will want meat that’s not too finely ground, and unless you are on a rigidly lowfat diet, you should select meat that’s not too lean: fat helps to keep the meat moist as it cooks, and as a result a Svizzera made from overly lean meat will be dry and rather chewy.

Mix the ingredients you choose to include well, and shape the mixture into patties, figuring that 500 g of ground meat (1 1/8 pounds) will yield 4 burgers about 3 inches (7.5 cm) across and a little more than a half-inch (1.2 cm) thick. Don’t make them too thick, because they will contract as they cook, becoming thicker in the process.

Come time to cook Svizzere, if you are pan-frying them with a Teflon-coated pan and have used meat that’s not too lean, you can simply heat the pan and cook them with no additional fat. If you are instead using leaner meat that might dry out, you should drizzle a drop or two of olive oil over the patties before you cook them.

If you are using cast iron, which (I find) nicely sears the surfaces of the patties, forming a zesty crust, you will need to grease it lest the patties stick. The other indoor option, if you have a hearth, is to cook them over the coals.

Outdoors? The grill, and here the flame source is up to you; I prefer hardwood or lump charcoal, but gas will also give good results. I wouldn’t use charcoal briquettes, because they can contain all sorts of things, including sawdust.

Last thing: Cooking Burgers.

Commercially prepared ground meats can be contaminated with e. coli bacteria: if they are present on the surface of a piece of meat the grinding process will spread them throughout the ground meat, at which point the ground meat, if eaten raw, could cause food poisoning whose effects range from the uncomfortable to the fatal (especially in children). Since e. coli bacteria are neutralized by cooking, always cook burgers made from purchased ground meat thoroughly. They should be well done, no pink in the middle, and certainly no blood.

If you want to enjoy the luxury of a rare burger, buy a piece of beef, sear the outsides to eliminate bacteria, and grind it yourself (go in pulses if you are using a food processor), adding fat to taste (figure 10 – 15% by weight) and washing the grinder well when you have finished.

Do not serve rare burgers made with commercially ground meat. It’s simply not worth the risk.

Having said all this, some Italian Svizzera Recipes:

Italian Burgers With Creamy Sauce, Svizzere Gustose
These burgers are served with a creamy sauce that gains zing from some mustard, and will be quite nice in the spring.

Italian Burgers with Spinach,  Svizzere e Spinaci
Blended spinach and ham are a nice addition to ground beef in these burgers, and provide a welcome variation to the more standard theme.

Breaded Hamburgers, Svizzere in Cotoletta
The cotoletta alla Milanese, a breaded fried cutlet, is one of the quickest and easiest (and most popular) meat dishes in Italy. It’s just a step further to fry up a burger, but here we have an added twist: it’s stuffed with ham and cheese, and the latter melts delightfully.

Pizzaiola Style Hamburgers, Hamburger alla Pizzaiola
Carne alla pizzaiola, cutlets cooked in a tomato sauce of the sort that goes over pizza, is one of Naples’s signature dishes. It is only natural to do the same to a hamburger.

Chained Italian Hamburgers, or Double Bacon Burgers: Hamburger Incatenati
American-style fast food has become quite popular in Italy, and it’s only natural that Italians should begin making hamburgers at home too. This clearly derives from some of the things one gets from the takeout window, but builds nicely upon the concept.

Creamy Anchovy Italian Burgers, Hamburger All’Acciuga
Anchovies have the delightful freshness of the sea, and are very tasty in these burgers.

Summer Burgers, Svizzere Estive
Here we have burgers with tomatoes and eggplant, and while the recipe will work well if you use a griddle over the stove, it will be even nicer if you do it outside, over the coals.

Kyle’s Burgers
These aren’t exactly Italian, but all my Italian in-laws, even those who normally recoil from Svizzere, ask for more.

Summer Burgers, Svizzere Estive

The word for “hamburger” in Italian is Svizzera (Swiss), and no, I don’t know why. But they have been popular since long before the arrival of the Double Arches, and Italians have a great many ways of preparing them. Here they are with tomatoes and eggplant, and while the recipe will work well if you use a griddle over the stove, it will be even nicer if you do it outside, over the coals.

  • 4 hamburgers, beef or a mixture of meats if you prefer
  • 4 3/4-inch (1.5 cm) thick slices of eggplant, of the diameter of the patties
  • 4 sun-ripened plum tomatoes, seeded and cut into rounds
  • A pinch of oregano
  • 2-3 leaves fresh basil, shredded
  • A teaspoon of balsamic vinegar
  • 6 tablespoons olive oil
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Begin by seeding and slicing the tomatoes, and put them in a bowl with the oregano, basil, balsamic vinegar, and three tablespoons of olive oil. Season to taste with salt and pepper and mix well.

Salt the eggplant slices and let them sit in a colander for 10-15 minutes. Rinse them and pat them dry.

If you are preparing the dish indoors, heat your griddle. If you are outside, you will want hot but not really searing coals. In any case, grill the eggplant slices 3-4 minutes per side. Transfer them to a plate, season them with salt and pepper, and drizzle the remaining olive oil over them. Then turn the slices so both sides are coated with oil, and let them rest.

In the meantime cook the burghers on the griddle or over the coals until done, turning them once or twice. Season the burghers when they are done, and put them on four plates. Top each with a slice of eggplant, and a quarter of the tomato mixture.

Serve with crusty bread (hamburger buns may not be the best idea here), and a light zesty red wine, along the lines of a Bardolino.

More about Svizzere, Italian hamburgers, and other recipes.

Creamy Anchovy Italian Burgers, Hamburger All’Acciuga

Americans are for some reason put off by anchovies — when I was in college I often ordered anchovy pizza and none of my friends ever wanted to partake. Their loss, because anchovies have the delightful freshness of the sea, and are very tasty in these burgers.

  • 1 1/3 pounds (600 g) ground beef
  • 3 slices American-style day old bread (white or as you prefer), crusts removed and discarded
  • Milk
  • 2 salted anchovies, boned, rinsed and patted dry
  • 1 cup (50 g) freshly grated Parmigiano or Grana Padana
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 2 yolks, beaten
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • A pinch of freshly ground nutmeg
  • The juice of half a lemon, and the remainder of the lemon washed and finely sliced
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Put the bread in a bowl and add milk to cover. Let sit 5 minutes, and then drain away the milk and squeeze the excess from the bread, which will be a moist but not dripping paste.

Put the ground meat in a fairly large bowl and add to it the bread, eggs, a pinch of nutmeg, grated cheese, and salt and pepper to taste. Mix well, and shape the mixture into four fairly thin broad hamburgers.

Heat the olive oil and butter in a skillet and cook the hamburgers. When they are done remove them from the pan to a serving plate and keep them warm.

While the meat is cooking, whisk the two egg yolks with the lemon juice.

Upon removing the hamburgers from the pan, crumble the anchovies into the pan drippings and stir them about with a fork to dissolve them. Reduce the heat to low (make sure the pan is not too hot, or the eggs will set), stir the emulsified yolks into the pan, and cook for a minute, until the mixture thickens. Spoon it over the burgers at once, and serve, garnished with the finely sliced lemon.

More about Svizzere, Italian hamburgers, and other recipes.