Pork, Pancetta, Baguette
Passing along recipes is a bit like the game of telephone, little tweaks changing the message until it sometimes evolves into something wholly different from the original.
I like to read the comments under recipes published online. Sometimes the remarks are entertaining in describing how very much the writer has digressed from the recipe, but often they have realistic and inspiring ideas. A touch of Kahlua in a chocolate cake, a scatter of corn meal across the bottom of a bread pan, blueberries instead of cranberries, a teaspoon of gin in shrimp cocktail sauce.
A few years ago I came across a discussion online about a dish from Tuscany for pork tenderloin rubbed with mashed garlic, sage, and rosemary, salt and pepper, wedged in a loaf of bread and wrapped in thinly sliced fresh pork belly. The whole thing was tied at intervals with kitchen twine, and more of the mashed garlic mixture was spread on top. Additional pork belly was roasted in the pan for pan drippings. Later, the fat was discarded and the pan deglazed with wine. There was no actual recipe presented, but many cooks weighed in with their experiences with similar dishes.
There were some problems with making the recipe in the United States, where thinly sliced fresh pork belly is harder to come by than in Italy. And there were some comments in the discussion that the pork loin would be undercooked if not well-browned before inserting into the bread.
I reasoned that with good ingredients I didn’t have much to lose in trying my own version of the recipe. I used two pork tenderloins, sliced pancetta from the supermarket, and a long wide baguette. I made an herb paste by chopping together sage, rosemary, thyme, a generous amount of garlic, and a pat of butter.
I seasoned the tenderloins with salt and pepper, then seared them in olive oil and two slices of bacon until well browned and the interior temperature was 52°C (125°F). The meat was set aside and then I added a small thinly sliced onion and a good handful of sliced shiitake mushrooms, sauteeing them until tender.
I rubbed the seared tenderloins with half of the herb mixture. Cut the baguette in half crosswise, then each half lengthwise. Put the tenderloins between like two sandwiches, and topped each tenderloin with half of the sauteed onions and mushrooms, and one of the slices of bacon.
Thin slices of pancetta were draped across the tops and each “sandwich” was tied with kitchen string, then brushed with the pan juices. The remaining herb mixture was scattered across the tops. In an oven preheated to 177°C (350°F), it took about forty-five minutes for the pork to reach 63°C (145°F) when tested with an instant-read thermometor.
The Proof is in the Tasting
As recipes get passed from one cook to another, they often change. Old cookbooks will have penciled advice or warnings in the margins, measurements crossed out and new ones entered. I sent my recipe to my sister, who isn’t a professional recipe developer but cooks like one. She liked it but thought it could use more butter in the sauteeing, in the pan juices, in the basting. She pointed out that the slices of the finished dish fall apart somewhat, but that it isn’t meant to be picked up and eaten like a sandwich so that didn’t matter. She did suggest cutting the pork tenderloins horizontally before searing. An interesting idea. I’ll try that next time.