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By Dave DeWitt
Photos by Wes Naman
A few years ago, my wife and I joined Harald and Renate Zoschke in Parma to attend the largest food show I've ever seen, CIBUS, which makes the Fiery Foods & Barbecue Show look tiny—that year there were 2,350 exhibitors displaying more than 10,000 products. For lovers of Italian food, this is heaven on earth, with the emphasis on pork, pasta, wine, and chocolate—all the necessary food groups. It was there that I tasted porchetta for the first time. Porchetta is boned whole small pigs stuffed with garlic, rosemary, and fennel and then slowly roasted.
Flash forward to this fall, and while doing research for a new book about New World foods spreading to the Old World, I learned that not only is the turkey beloved in France and England for Christmas, it's the traditional Christmas meal in Italy, too. And one of the ways they cook it is porchetta-style in Nereto, Abruzzo during the Sagra del Pitone. A sagra is a market festival and turkeys are also called piti in various regions of Italy. This sagra on November 11th each year features turkeys raised on walnut shells, a process that hardens the meat and greatly reduces the fat in the birds.
During the sagra, a special turkey dish is prepared, tacchino alla porchetta, which means turkey cooked in the manner of roasted pig. Since porchetta is perhaps the best pork in the world, it made sense to me to attempt such a dish with turkey. Essentially, the turkey is heavily seasoned with fresh rosemary and lots of garlic, and then roasted. But halfway through the roasting process, the unstuffed turkey is cut in half along the breastbone and put back in the oven so that the entire bird takes on a golden brown hue.
I decided I had to try it, so I found a recipe in Carol Field's book Celebrating Italy, and too impatient to wait for Christmas, I roasted a fresh turkey from Tully's Market for Thanksgiving. It is simply the best turkey I've ever prepared, so I'm suggesting an Italian turkey for your Christmas feast. The other recipes are from Carol's book as well, but if you don’t want to go whole-hog on the Italian theme, any of these recipes would be a fantastic addition to your own holiday dinner. Buon apetito!