San Maurizio’s wonderful Comitato Fuochi put on a weekend-long shindig a couple of weeks ago, their Summer Festival. This doughty group of volunteers was first formed in 1903. In the early days the Committee divided our frazione into three districts. In the 1940’s the three districts became two, and in the 1980’s the two became one; since 2006 the group has been particularly active. Working with the town of Rapallo they helped organize the construction of the soccer field where they now hold their events. In the intervening years they have added several permanent and temporary structures so events can be held in all weather.
The main purpose of the group is to have a Festa in honor of our frazione’s patron saint, San Maurizio each September. One of the highlights of the annual Festa Patronale is the fireworks display; this, of course, costs money, and part of the reason for the other four annual Festas (Carnivale, Spring, Summer, Chestnuts) is to raise money for the main event.
The weekend festa is comprised of food and entertainment. Being old farts we didn’t make it down to the soccer field to enjoy the entertainment.
In fact, sadly the Friday night show was rained out. We did, however, stop in for lunch on Sunday, not knowing what we would find on the menu. To our delight we found trofie al pesto (a traditional Ligurian pasta), totani (small fried squid) and porchetta, seen above, amongst other things.
Wikipedia describes porchetta as “a savoury, fatty, and moist boneless pork roast of Italian culinary tradition. The body of the pig is gutted, deboned, arranged carefully with layers of stuffing, meat, fat, and skin, then rolled, spitted, and roasted, traditionally over wood. Porchetta is usually heavily salted in addition to being stuffed with garlic, rosemary, fennel, or other herbs, often wild. Porchetta has been selected by the Italian Ministero delle Politiche Agricole, Alimentari e Forestali as a prodotto agroalimentare tradizionale (“traditional agricultural-alimentary product”, one of a list of traditional Italian foods held to have cultural relevance).” The dish originated in central Italy, but is now popular throughout the country. You can frequently find it at weekly markets at a special truck, and it turns up often at festas like ours as well. This particular porchetta came from Tuscany, from Montepulciano to be exact. And it was delicious, according to Speedy (I ate the totani, which was also really, really good).
I asked Speedy to write down the story of his introduction to porchetta to share with you. This is what he said, “I first learned about Porchetta and its charms back in the 1970’s when I was flying cargo from New York to Rome. Without flight attendants and the access to First Class fare which was available to crews on passenger flights, the guys and I would arrive in Rome famished–and with the usual thirst that follows long flights. One day I asked one of the agents meeting the flight where was the best place to stop to take care of this problem on the way to the crew hotel in central Rome. He suggested telling the taxi driver to take the Via del Mare where we would find one of those open-sided trucks that are, in fact, full kitchens that serve the food out on paper from a high counter that runs the length of the vehicle–this is the Italian version of a Truck Stop. And, the ground in front would, in fact, be crawling with huffing trucks. Anyway, we would get slabs of steaming porchetta on thick slices of crusty, chewy bread and a small glass of frascati for about a dollar. For a couple more glasses of frascati one had to put out another quarter or so.” It is a very happy memory for him!
A porchetta-like dish is not hard to make at home. You can find many recipes on the internet, for example this one from Epicurious or this one from Bon Appetit. My own favorite, natch, is Speedy’s own recipe for rolled, stuffed pork roast, which is very porchetta-like. But for the true porchetta experience you have to come to Italy and visit one of the many stands or festas where it is served. I recommend the ones at San Maurizio. You won’t find a harder-working group of volunteers any where and the food is always great. Here are a few more photos of our visit to the tent and there are more over here if you are interested.
One of my favorite poems from the book Unleashed: Poems by Writers’ Dogs (1999) is this one by a yellow lab, whose writer companion I don’t remember. The poem goes something like this:
Ya gonna eat that?
Ya gonna eat that?
Ya gonna eat that?
I’ll eat that!
I love how they keep the porchetta swaddled up in a sheet – keeps the flies off.