Saturday, October 19, 2019

Arista, Patate Rosse Arrostite, Cavolo Nero

It was Florence, Tuscany. The year was 1430.  The Byzantine patriarch, Bessarion, was visiting the city, which was the center of an oligarchic republic at time.  The visit of the patriarch was an occasion to celebrate. Accordingly, along with the other bishops and cardinals, Bessarion was treated to a feast that included a roasted pork dish.  After eating some of that roast pork, the Bessarion exclaimed, "aristos!" His Tuscan hosts looked at him and then at each other.  After all, what the Byzantine patriarch said was Greek (literally). The Tuscan hosts thought Bessarion was shouting the Greek word for pork; instead, he was really saying "best" or "excellent." 

This is a great story, but it is most likely a culinary myth. "Arista" goes back at least one century before Bessarion set foot in Florence.  Records apparently include references to the roast pork dish going back to the 1200s.  Regardless of when it first appeared, the dish has become one of the culinary cornerstones of Tuscan cuisine;

Indeed, arista is in many ways the porcine equivalent to Bistecca alla Fiorentina, another Tuscan culinary classic.  Like bistecca, arista combines garlic, rosemary, salt and pepper into a crust that infuses those flavors into the meat.  Arista can also be made using a crown roast or a rib roast, which are probably as close to a bone-in cut like a porterhouse.  However, most recipes for arista focus more on cuts like the pork tenderloin than roasts.  Moreover, unlike bistecca, arista works best when it is roasted slow rather than with a sear over extremely hot coals.  

Most arista recipes are relatively the same.  This recipe is a Chef Bolek original insofar that I have taken what I liked from dfferent arista recipes, including some of my own additional ingredients, like the crushed red pepper. 

For this dish, I decide to pair the roasted pork with side dishes of roasted red potatoes (patate rosse arrostite) and sauteed black kale (cavolo nero).  The red potato recipe is rather basic, drawing upon the fundamental ingredients of the rub for the pork roast (rosemary, garlic, salt and black pepper) to underscore the complementary nature of the roasted potatoes.  As for the kale, I am not a big fan of the leafy cabbage.  Still, I am a big fan of balsamic vinegar, which provides some sweetness to balance out the bitterness of the kale. 

In the end, I was just cooking for myself, not a feast for bishops and cardinals.  Yet, as the picture shows, it was nevertheless a personal feast.  Just a couple of bites of the roasted pork is all the explanation one needs for why this recipe has survived over at least 800 years. 

A Chef Bolek Original
Serves 6-8

Ingredients (for the pork loin):
1 boneless pork loin roast (about 3 pounds)
4 springs of fresh rosemary, chopped finely
4 cloves of garlic, minced finely
1 tablespoon sea salt (or more if desired)
1 tablespoon of freshly ground black pepper (or more if desired)
Pinch of crushed red pepper flakes
3 or 4 tablespoons of olive oil (or more if desired)
1 cup of water or white wine

Ingredients (for the red potatoes):
2 pounds of red potatoes, washed, cut into large pieces
1 tablespoon of fresh rosemary, chopped finely
1 tablespoon of garlic, minced finely
Sea salt, to taste
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
2 tablespoons of olive oil

Ingredients (for the kale):
1 bunch of Tuscan kale (or kale), 
     leaves and stems roughly chopped
2 cloves of garlic, minced finely
1 shallot, minced finely
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Sea salt, to taste
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Balsamic vinegar 

1.  Prepare the pork loin.  Brush the pork loin with the olive oil.  Salt and pepper the pork loin generously on all sides.  Then add the minced garlic and rosemary on all sides.  Allow the pork loin to rest for 30 minutes or overnight in the refrigerator.  

2.  Prepare the red potatoes.  In a large bowl add the potatoes, olive oil, garlic and rosemary.  Salt and pepper the potatoes.  

3. Roast the pork.  Heat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.  Place the pork loin roast in the center of a lightly oiled roasting pan.  Add the potatoes around the pork loin roast.  Cook uncovered for 45 minutes.  Check the loin roast and the potatoes. Raise the heat to 450 degrees and cook for another 30 minutes to brown well.  Remove the roast when the internal temperature reaches around 150 degrees Fahrenheit.  Allow the roast to rest for 10 minutes before carving. 

4.  Prepare the kale. Heat the olive oil over medium heat.  Add the stems, garlic and shallots.  Season with salt and pepper.  Reduce heart to low and cook, stirring occasionally for 10 minutes or until the stems soften.  Add the kale leaves and increase the heat to high.  Cook, stirring the leaves until they have wilted, about two to three minutes.

5.  Finish the dish. Carve the roast into thin slices and serve with the potatoes and kale.


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