One of my fondest memories of my years as a young academic in Boston was spending Friday evenings with a couple of colleagues, cooking dinner, and watching “Dallas” and “Falcon Crest.” As we dined and intermittently glanced at the television, we’d offer a running, often cynical, commentary on the show’s lack of any redeeming social value and eventually wind up discussing politics and thus missing the end of the show.
Since I was often the guest, my friends typically prepared the meal, which more often than not was a roast beef. One evening, however, I offered to cook at their apartment. During these years, the late 70s, Marcella Hazan was my go-to authority on authentic Italian cooking; her two volumes of The Classic Italian Cookbook provided me with many recipes that would stun my friends with their simplicity and flavor. So the night I cooked for our Friday get-together I chose Hazan’s Bolognese-style pork roast braised in milk. I could start at 6PM and it would be ready just in time for “Dallas.”
This recipe may be one of her most popular; versions and tales of it abound on the Internet. I believe it first appeared in her the first volume of her classic series. It was so simple: brown a small pork roast in olive oil and butter; season with salt and pepper; add milk, cover the pot with the lid slightly ajar and braise for about 3 hours. When finished, remove the roast, skim the fat from sauce, and serve. The roast was moist and succulent and the milk turned into a sauce of creamy brown nutlike clusters.
I noticed that in Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking, which is a compendium of the earlier two volumes, the procedure for cooking the roast is more complicated, calling for adding the milk at three intervals, in varying quantities. I chose, however, to follow the original method, adding all of the milk at the beginning, but followed her advice of having the butcher remove the bones from the roast to enable a more thorough browning of the meat and of cooking the bones along with the roast to maximize flavor.
Note that the size of the cooking vessel is essential to the success of this dish. The pot should be no bigger than is necessary to, in Hazan’s words, “snugly accommodate the pork,” which allows about 2/3 to 1/2 of the roast to be submerged in the milk while braising. I used a small 2.5 quart Le Creuset dutch oven.
My only real variation from her recipe is the addition of some fresh nutmeg after adding the milk. I guess this comes from following Hazan’s recipe for béchamel sauce.
Pork Loin Braised in Milk Bolognese Style Adapted from The Classic Italian Cookbook by Marcella Hazan
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
21/2 pound pork loin roast. (Have the ribs detached from the loin and split into two or three parts. Do not removed any fat from the meat. The roast should be tied. See picture below.)
Freshly ground black pepper
2 1/2 cups whole milk (You may need a little more in the unlikely event that the milk evaporates too much.)
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
1. Heat butter and oil over medium-high heat in a heavy-bottomed pot that that can later snugly accommodate the pork.
2. When the butter foam subsides, put in the roast fat-side down. Brown the meat evenly on all sides. If the fat is becoming very dark, lower the heat. Season the roast with salt and pepper. Add the milk slowly to avoid it boiling over. Add the nutmeg.
3. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer, and set the lid slightly ajar. Cook slowly for about 21/2 to 3 hours, occasionally turning and basting the meat. If before the meat is fully cooked, you find that the liquid in the pot has evaporated, add another 1/2 cup of milk.
4. When the pork has become tender and all the milk has coagulated into small, brownish clusters, transfer the roast to a cutting board and tent with foil.
5. Tip the pot and spoon off most of the fat, being careful to leave behind all the coagulated milk clusters. Add 2 or 3 tablespoons of water and boil away the water over high heat using a wooden spoon to scrape loose cooking residues from the bottom and the sides of the pot.
6. Carve the roast into 3/8-inch slices and arrange on warm platter. Spoon all the pot juices over the pork and serve immediately.
Wine Pairing: Dolcetto d’Alba, Dry Lambrusco