This is a classic dish from Emilia-Romagna, a northern region of Italy – not the prettiest dish in the world, but that's all forgiven as soon as you taste it. Traditionally made using pork loin, the lactic acid in the milk helps break down the meat, and the lemon zest becomes an integral part, as it helps the milk to curdle and creates the distinctive caramelised ricotta-like particles found in the sauce. I use pork neck for my version, as it's a cut that works well with this style of slow-braised dish.
- 2 x 800 g-1 kg (each) pieces of boneless pork neck, skin and fat removed, out at room temperature
- olive oil for cooking
- 14 garlic cloves, gently bashed
- 1 cup sage leaves
- peeled zest of 2 lemons
- 1 litre full-cream milk, at room temperature
- river salt and black pepper
- olive oil for serving
Oven temperatures are for conventional; if using fan-forced (convection), reduce the temperature by 20˚C. | We use Australian tablespoons and cups: 1 teaspoon equals 5 ml; 1 tablespoon equals 20 ml; 1 cup equals 250 ml. | All herbs are fresh (unless specified) and cups are lightly packed. | All vegetables are medium size and peeled, unless specified. | All eggs are 55-60 g, unless specified.
Place a frypan big enough to hold the pork on a high heat. While the pan is warming, season the pork quite heavily. Add a generous splash of oil to the pan, before gently lowering in your pork, at which stage lower the heat slightly.
What you are wanting at this stage is to brown your pork nicely on all sides. This will involve some rolling around of your neck and some tong mastery, but it shouldn’t take too long. Once you have a nice brown crust on all sides, transfer the pork to a baking dish, big enough to fit the pork snugly but with a little room to move.
Make sure you leave your pork pan on the heat, so you can throw in the garlic. Give it a good stir – you want the garlic to start sizzling and browning before adding the sage and lemon. Give this all a good stir and then add everything together in with the pork.
Pour the milk into the baking dish – it should come about halfway up the sides of the pork. Add some extra seasoning. Cover the pork with a sheet of baking paper and then securely cover the top of the dish with some foil. Place in a pre-heated oven at 170°C, set a timer for 1 hour and step away. Clean up what little mess you’ve made, wander off and do whatever else it is you need doing.
When your timer goes off, return to the kitchen, take the dish out of the oven and carefully remove the foil, making sure you don’t get a steam burn. Peel off the baking paper and use some tongs to turn the pork neck over. At this stage, you will see the milk beginning to colour slightly and you will also notice a delightful slight oiliness to the liquid. Back on with the baking paper and, carefully, with some more foil before returning to the oven.
Set the timer for another hour and then step away again.
Once this hour is up, your pork will be ready.
Remove the dish from the pan, remove the foil and have a look. At this stage, you will see that the milk looks like it’s almost separated, with a lovely golden colour.
Carefully remove the pork from the liquid to a board, let it rest for a moment, before carefully slicing it into 1.5 cm pieces. This can prove to be a little messy, as the pork will be so tender that it should almost fall apart as you cut it. Transfer the pork directly onto a large warmed platter.
Use a slotted spoon to scoop out all the solids from the pan onto the pork. Apart from the garlic, sage and lemon, you may also be lucky enough to find some firmer, ricotta-like bits.
Use another spoon, without holes this time, and pour some more of the liquid over the pork, enough so the pork is sitting in a nice puddle of sauce.
Finish the dish with a nice drizzle of olive oil and some extra black pepper. Serve immediately, perhaps with a side of blanched greens, such as cavolo nero or kale, tossed in oil and a little extra lemon juice.
• Most commercial lemons are waxed, which gives the skin an appealing shine, but isn’t so great when it comes to using the zest. Always give them a wash with warm water and a slight scrub to remove the outer waxy coating.
Photographs by Benito Martin. Styling by Lynsey Fryers. Food preparation by Suresh Watson. Joren shallow bowl (pork) and Tapas bread plate in indigo, both (cavolo nero) from Country Road. Kay Bojesen Grand Prix salad servers, from Great Dane Furniture. Small wooden candle holder, from Kikki.K.