We adopted a morning dog. After the first couple of months of shared anxieties and mutual adjustment, Teo is proving to be a cheerful dog, full of energy, especially in the morning, in the very early morning.
While Noa yawns with sleepy eyes and we pretend not to hear him, pulling the blankets over our head, Teo whimpers and wags his tail to the rhythm of his own music. He jumps onto the bed and jumps off without grace, pulling down the sheets and the last traces of the night.
His enthusiasm draws us outside before sunrise, and makes us discover a countryside that betrays the first signs of autumn.
The plowed fields have the warm colour of autumn, a shade that I would gladly wear in the coming season. The air is fresh, crisp: the whiff of mushrooms and fallen leaves takes the place of the brackish smell of the sea, carried by the wind during the good season.
We start looking back to a summer season that has passed almost unnoticed, tiring and intense, to our first year as a married couple. During our holiday in the mountains, we promised each other a change of pace, a readjustment of our priorities. I’ve lost count of the times I’ve made these promises, but every time I firmly believe this could be the right one. We are humans, in a constant need to get back on track, but the rarefied mountain air helped us feel more confident than usual that this may be the right time.
Back home after a week, it was time to turn the studio upside down, to prepare it for the fall season of cooking classes, so that everything had a place, a box, a label, a role in the months to come.
There will be many new workshops with menus that are finally focused on squash, porcini mushrooms, roasts, soups and apples. Plates, trays, cutlery, glasses and everything else needed for photos are clean and lined up on the shelves, ready for new photos and new recipes to share.
At home, I created a little corner all for myself: a narrow essential desk just behind the sofa, with two photos of us, smiling, and a slender vase of dried lavender and helichrysum, cut during the summer from the bushes we planted immediately after the wedding. Here I can finally keep my computer and my notebooks without bringing them up and down, dragging them from room to room. So all I had to do was to sit at my desk and start writing.
When your butcher comes for dinner
I welcome October and the autumn season with one of the most popular recipes of this summer, tried countless times during cooking classes, for family lunches and dinners with friends. I’m talking about the arista ripiena, a stuffed pork loin with sausages, breadcrumbs, Parmigiano Reggiano and wild fennel flowers.
You might not believe it, but I am fearless: instead of trying this recipe in the secret of my kitchen, fine tuning ingredients and cooking times before bringing it to the table, I cooked it one evening when we had a couple of friends and their beautiful little girl for dinner. So where is my recklessness? He, Nieri, is our trusted butcher, the one who gives me the tips on the right cuts to use, the one who prepares pork medallions and a stuffed guinea fowl so neat they look like paintings.
We had briefly talked about this stuffed pork only two days before. I was leaning conspiratorially against the counter, he was sharing his secrets: add the grated Parmigiano Reggiano to the stuffing, and don’t forget the fennel.
So that evening, after a bowl of pici with sausage ragù – needless to say that his sausages are the best sausages in the world, made with Grigio della Montagnola, a local pig, bred free range in the woods -, I took courage and brought the stuffed arista to the table, and it smelled of wild fennel and cozy evenings.
Arista ripiena, stuffed pork loin with sausage and wild fennel flowers
This is how my love story with the stuffed pork loin began: it is easy to cook, you can choose which aroma to give it according to your menu – wild fennel flowers are my favourite choice, but also rosemary or juniper berries work well with the other ingredients – and you can prepare it the day before. It is actually better if you make it in advance, so that you can slice it into thin neat slices.
As all the other recipes that I love, you can cook it for a family lunch on Sundays, but it would suit also a weeknight meal, served with mashed potatoes or a side of cannellini beans. The leftovers will be your delicious lunch the next day, even sandwiched in between two slices of sourdough bread with a thin layer of mustard.
Arista ripiena, stuffed pork loin
- 1,2 kg (2.65 lb) pork loin
- 350 g (0.77 lb) fresh Italian sausages
- 80 g (5 1/2 tbsp) grated Parmigiano Reggiano
- 80 g (3/4 cups) breadcrumbs
- 1 teaspoon dried fennel flowers
- ground black pepper
- extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 cup dry white wine
- Start by preparing the filling. Remove the sausage case and place them in a bowl. Add the grated Parmigiano Reggiano, breadcrumbs and dried fennel flowers. Mix the ingredients with your hands: if they are too dry, add a tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil.
- Now cut open the loin. Working on the short side of the loin, first cut it open like a book, going from right to left, and then go back, to the right. You have to make an S-shaped incision.
- Open the loin on a cutting board, or on a sheet of parchment paper, and season with salt and pepper. Place the filling on the pork loin and press it well with your hands. You might want to leave an inch without stuffing on the short edges of the pork loin, as it will be easier to roll it.
- Wrap the pork loin on itself, starting from the short side, pressing well as you roll it up, taking care that the filling remains well sealed inside.
- Now tie the pork loin with the butcher's twine: cut many pieces of string long enough to tie the loin on the short side, about 1 inch apart. Stringete bene i nodi, legando la lonza ogni 2 cm, così da formare un cilindro ben compatto. If you have them, place a few fennel flowers under the string, it will release its wonderful aroma while cooking. Season the loin with salt and pepper, then rub the seasoning into the meat.
- Pour the extra virgin olive oil into a pan large enough to hold the pork loin. Be generous, depending on the size of the pot, you could use several tablespoons of olive oil.
- Heat the olive oil over medium heat.
- When the olive oil is hot, place the pork loin into the pan. Sear the meat it over medium heat until it becomes golden brown, then turn it with two wooden spoons, so as to brown it on all four sides. It will take about ten minutes.
- When the pork loin is golden brown on each side, pour a cup of white wine over it. Reduce for a few seconds, then immediately cover the pan with a lid. The moisture of the wine will cook the turkey.
- Move the pot over very low heat and cook the pork loin for about 30 minutes, checking towards the end to prevent it from drying too much. If you have moved the pan to very low flame, there should be no problems.
- Now turn off the heat and let the pork loin rest in the pan for at least an hour. Thus, the residual heat of the pan will finish to cook the pork, leaving the meat juicy and tender. Do not skip this part, otherwise the pork will not be cooked properly.
- Now you can choose whether to serve the pork loin immediately or wait until it is completely cold. If you prefer thin and neat slices, wait until the next day and stash the pork in the refrigerator.
- Once the pork loin is cold, it will be much easier to slice it. To warm it, do not heat the pork itself, which would otherwise become too dry.
- Heat a serving dish and place the sliced pork loin on top, then heat the cooking sauce on the pan and pour it over the meat. This will be enough to warm it up.
Wild fennel, my love
If you have been reading this blog for a while, you know how much I love fresh herbs, with a pronounced preference for what grows wild along country roads. Wild fennel stole my heart a long time ago. In the spring I collect its feather-like fronds to make pesto, to season a potato salad or bowl of pici. I add it to a white pork ragù and to baked fish.
In summer, it is finally time to enjoy its umbrella-like flowers. Wild fennel grows tall and slender, it stands along the country road where we walk with Noa and Teo. If you can’t find fresh wild fennel flowers, use dried flowers – I finally found them at the supermarket in the seed and dried fruit ward – or even fennel seeds. If you use the seeds, though, crush them in a mortar into a fine powder and slightly reduce the amount, as the flowers have a more delicate aroma.
Now the flowers are slowly turning into seeds. I’ll collect some of them, and I’ll cut the longest slender branches to dry them and arrange them in a vase at home and in the studio: they immediately give a fresh and clean scent, which welcomes in a room like a hug.
Serve the stuffed pork loin with…
Now that Autumn is finally upon us, try this menu which sees the stuffed pork loin as the protagonist. Open the meal with an orzotto, a risotto made with barley, then prepare a quick seasonal pumpkin salad to accompany the pork loin.
- Orzotto with chanterelles. An orzotto is just a risotto made with orzo, barley. Have you ever tried it? You’ll be surprised and you might change your routine to introduce this cereal. Lately I am partial to barley, which I use often in soups, salads, and risotto: it’s a matter of texture, I love how it stays al dente, tiny pearls which magnificently absorb the flavour of any ingredient I marry it with.
- Roasted pumpkin salad. As soon as we got home from our honeymoon, I went straight to the market to align myself to the new season and find some inspiration for the next recipes. I had been thinking about this salad for a while, my body was demanding vegetables, and colours, and good olive oil.
Vote for Juls’ Kitchen for the Saveur Blog Awards 2019
You made it again! Our blog has been shortlisted for the third year in a row for the Saveur Blog Awards, this time as Best Food Culture Blog. This is making us so proud, so excited, so over the moon! It means that through our blog, through the (almost) weekly newsletters, through our Cooking with an Italian Accent podcast and the cooking classes we managed to pass on some of our passion for Italian and Tuscan food culture.
If you want to support us, you can cast your vote here. Remember to vote early and often, as you can vote daily in each category through October 18th.
My butcher is different
Are you curious to know where I buy the meat for the recipes I share here on the blog, for the cooking classes and for us? My butcher is Macelleria Capocasa, in Via Fratelli Bandiera, 91, in Colle di Val d’Elsa. They are also in our foodie guide Siena With Gusto.
I owe all that I know about cooking meats to the advice, availability, and congeniality of Luciano, Stefania, and Nieri. You feel at home as soon as you enter their butchery shop, where both regular customers and occasional passersby are welcomed with smiles and jokes. The choice of meats here is excellent: local, mostly organic or raised in the wild, fresh and aged sausages, cured meats made from the local pig breed Grigio della Montagnola, salami and other local specialty cured meats like capocollo, finocchiona, buristo, and soppressata. Don’t miss their pork cheek cooked in spices.
Not long ago, I found also a jar of their artisanal lard, made in the most traditional way: as soon as I saw it on the counter I bought it, and I intend to try it as soon as possible in a pastry dough, for frying or to bake the schiacciata alla fiorentina.