Cooking a piglet does take planning, and a large oven, ideally wood-fired, though one could make due with gas or electric if one had to. Francesco Nardi, an old friend, restored the oven the tenant farmers living on the family estate used to use to make bread (and slept in during winter cold snaps, because it took days to cool completely) and now uses it to bake bread, and to roast meats, especially larger cuts.
In this case, Francesco roasted a piglet weighing about 10 kilos, or close to 25 pounds. He ordered it from his butcher, asking that it be cleaned and scraped, and picked it up the day before he fired up the oven.
He also had the other ingredients listed above.
As I said, Francesco started 24 hours before he planned to roast the piglet: He finely chopped his herbs, combined them with the salt and pepper, and rubbed the interior of the piglet with the mixture. He then put the piglet into a pan and put it in the refrigerator to marinate. Come evening, he set the beans to soak in a 10-quart pot with water to cover by several inches.
The next day he fired up the oven at about noon, and while it heated -- it takes a couple of hours -- made bread dough and baked a number of schiacciate (flatbreads, also called focaccia ), some sprinkled with onions, some with cubed pancetta, and some simply seasoned with kosher salt (and olive oil for all). He also baked several regular loaves.
While they were baking he placed the piglet in the roasting pan crouched on its stomach, and made 4 cuts in the rind, two over the hips and two over the shoulders: He packed some of the herbs gathered from the cavity into the cuts.
One can use a thermometer to judge the temperature of a wood fired oven, but with experience people go by eye: soot from the fire collects on the roof and walls of the oven when it's cool, and vaporizes when it reaches a temperature of about 600 F (300 C). So when the roof turns pale it's almost ready, and when the sides of the oven are also pale stone color it's hot -- if you have timed things correctly, something that comes with experience, the fire off to one side will be gentle, and not roaring at this point. If it's too high, let it burn down a bit.
Francesco's wasn't, and he slipped the piglet into the oven, pushing it back towards the back wall, and also put the bean pot in, carefully pushing it to one side.
The beans are of vital importance, because the water absorbs excess heat, and also (by evaporating) gives the oven the proper amount of humidity. You can serve them with the roast -- salt them after several hours -- though Francesco decided to set them aside for future use this time.
What next? Shut the oven door, and wait.
Francesco took his 10 pounds of potatoes, peeled them, cubed them, seasoned them with abundant salt, pepper, and some rosemary, and then did other things.
After about 2 1/2 hours of roasting, Francesco opened the door of the oven and pulled the pan with the piglet to the oven's mouth. Quite a bit of fat had rendered out, and the rind was beginning to color nicely. He added the potatoes, stirring them about to coat them with the pan drippings, and returned the pan to the oven. If you want, you could also brush the piglet's back with drippings at this point, but it's not strictly necessary. What next?
Shut the oven door, and wait for another 4-4 1/2 hours; you can, if you want, stir the potatoes about every hour or so. But it's not strictly necessary.
At this point the piglet will look like it does in the photo above.
One important thing: If you're using a gas or electric oven you'll obviously need a large one -- the largest ovens for home use in Italy have a mouth of 90 cm, about a yard, and that's what you'll need here. Temperature? Low, 300 F or 150 C, and a cooking time of 8-9 hours, adding the potatoes about half-way through. And no beans.
Carving the Piglet Francesco roasted this piglet for his sister Francesca's birthday party, and we started out with schiacciata, cold cuts, cheese, crostini, and other antipasti before turning out attention to the piglet.
The potatoes had already been transferred to serving dishes when Francesco rolled the piglet into the dining room and got to work. The first step was to remove the head -- the meat was so tender that the knife penetrated easily, and the head came right off.
It's a tasty (if large) morsel, with much to be enjoyed from around the cheeks and neck.
Francesco next cut along the spine, dividing the piglet into the two halves shown here, and subsequently divided each half into fore and hind quarter.
After quartering the piglet, Francesco cut the quarters into portion-sized pieces, some with rind for those who like the rind, and some without for those who would rather just the meat.