April 7th, 2014

Spring Supper: Fennel braised Pork, Beets-and-Blue Salad



One Sunday last spring when we were visiting our friends in Rome, we had the good fortune to accompany them on an outing to the small municipality, Pisoniano, a fifty minute drive east of the Eternal City. Their good friends had invited us to spend the day. Our host, Serge, an architect, had been born in this charming hill town. He knew everyone, and held the title as its unofficial mayor.


This particular Sunday felt magical. On this sun-filled day, the town was celebrating L’ Infiorata, or Flower Art Festival. Through the center of the main street ran a long series of “organic mosaics.” Each one was a vibrantly colored image or symbol of Christian faith created out of flower petals, stems, and seeds. Townspeople and visitors such as ourselves, families and friends, gathered to spend the afternoon enjoying the art and fellowship.


Each intricate image was connected to next, forming a brilliant carpet over the cobbles–a carpet you dared not step on! As meticulous and ephemeral as Tibetan sand paintings, each work was a collaborative effort created over thirty-six hours leading up to the festival. No doubt, there were many months in preparation.


After we spent time strolling the flower carpet sidelines, examining each tableau, astonished by the color, texture, and attention to detail, we all went to lunch at Trattoria Bacco. This was no ordinary meal, but one that had been designed by the chefs in keeping with the season and the celebration. Our multi-coursed luncheon began around 1pm and lasted for three hours!


We began our leisurely meal with a plate of antipasta: folds of prosciutto over melon, wrinkled pungent olives, a whip of ricotta, bites of radish. The pacing of service was slow and deliberate. It allowed for lively conversation–eight of us at a community dining table– and time to savor each dish.

We were able to enjoy our company and each course without feeling stuffed–well, at least, not until the end. The servers brought platters of house made ravioli cloaked in red sauce, followed by Tonnarelli alla Verdure, a Roman square-cut egg pasta tossed with seasonal green vegetables: spinach, artichoke, scallions, and small peas.


The supper’s centerpiece was a pork dish, Coscio di Maiale, a fresh ham long simmered in a wealth of garlic, bay leaf, and fennel seeds. Fresh rosemary and thyme were also in the mix, playing background roles.

The meat was sumptuous; juicy and fatty in its fragrant brown gravy. It was that trio–garlic, bay leaf and toasted fennel seeds, remarkable in combination, assertive in amount, that made the pork shine.

Inspiration! I knew that I would have to make this when I returned home.


I haven’t recreated the dish perfectly, not yet.

A fresh ham is not always available at our market, and this cut, with its bones, rich meat and layers of fat, is key to the dish. For my first try, I used a different cut, the sirloin tip. No bones, little fat. Nonetheless, the pork was delicious. And, the gravy, the result of browning then braising hunks of pork with that trio, came close to my remembrance. What a pleasure to have the connection of food, place, and memory: spending a leisurely Sunday afternoon, in the company of family and friends, at the table, doing as the Romans do.

Quantities for both pork and salad recipes are for a large group—10 to 15. With spring here at last, you might be having family and friends over to celebrate. Take time on a Sunday afternoon to relax and dine and visit.

Also, with beets being such a versatile vegetable for spring and fall, be sure to check out Cooking Light’s Guide to Beets for care, storage, growing, and preparation.


8 lb. boneless pork roast, such as sirloin tip
2-3 tablespoons olive oil
kosher salt
coarse ground black pepper
4 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 bulb (8-10 cloves) garlic, peeled and sliced
4-5 bay leaves
4 tablespoons fennel seed, lightly toasted
sprig or 2 of rosemary
4 sprigs thyme
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes

Rub the oil all over the piece(s) of meat. Liberally season with salt and black pepper.

Heat a Dutch oven on medium. Brown the meat on all sides, rotating the piece(s) every 5 minutes. This could take 15-20 minutes.
When the meat is almost finished browning, add the sliced garlic. Continue to cook for 3 minutes, then dust the flour over the meat.
Rotate the piece(s) around in the pan, so that the flour browns a bit.

Pour in water–2-3 cups—enough to almost cover the meat. Stir, loosening up the browned bits on the bottom and sides of the pot.
Plunge in the bay leaves, fennel seed, rosemary, thyme and red pepper flakes.
Cover and reduce the heat to medium low. Let the pork cook, undisturbed, for 1 1/2-2 hours.

Remove the meat and let it sit for 10-15 minutes before slicing.


Increase the heat on the pot to medium high, stirring the remaining sauce, allowing it to reduce and slightly thicken.
Slice the meat and pour the sauce over it. Pour extra sauce into a gravy boat or bowl.

Delicious with roasted potatoes or rice.

Makes 12-15 servings


1/2 pound spring lettuces
3 ruby beets, roasted, peeled and chilled
2 oranges or 4 clementines, peeled, sectioned, sliced
1/2 cup sliced red onion
4 ounces crumbled blue cheese

Place a layer of lettuces on a platter. Slice the beets and arrange over the lettuces, followed by a ring of sliced citrus, and red onion.
Sprinkle crumbled blue cheese. Repeat the layering.

Drizzle with Sweet Heat Dressing and serve.

Serves 8-10


1/4 cup white wine vinegar
2 tablespoons orange juice
1 tablespoon orange zest
1 teaspoon dry mustard
1/2 teaspoon minced jalapeno
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup olive oil

Place all of the ingredients into a pint jar. Screw on the lid tightly and shake well. Drizzle over the salad.
Serves 8-10


Posted in Meats/Poultry, Recipes, Salads

18 Responses to “Spring Supper: Fennel braised Pork, Beets-and-Blue Salad”
  1. Joyti Says:

    Ooo, this looks delicious. Well, especially the beets! I’ve got some beets in my ‘fridge from the market, I guess they’re going into a salad now :)

  2. Kitchen Belleicious Says:

    you always have such a layout a spread! I love it. I mean the meat could not look any more delicious and I love that you served it with the flavor of beets and the fennel. YUM!

  3. Adri Says:

    What a glorious article! It must have been a real stunner to see the flower carpeted streets. We have nothing to compare here in the U.S. And the food! What a feast. Thanks for sharing this delicious Spring meal. Buona Pasqua to you and yours!

  4. fluffy Says:

    the flower art is amazing

    Love beets and fennel
    they will create a delicious dinner

  5. Barbara Says:

    I would love to have seen that, Nancy. How beautiful! Your photos are marvelous.
    Just know I’d love the pork dish, love that fennel flavor. And the salad had all my favorite things……beets, oranges and blue cheese.
    Great post!

  6. 2 Sisters Recipes Says:

    I knew you had just the thing for Easter. Your roast pork and beet and blue cheese salad looks fabulous!
    I think I will make this this coming Sunday for Palm Sunday, thanks Nancy

  7. 2 Sisters Recipes Says:

    I knew you had just the thing for Easter. Your roast pork and beet and blue cheese salad looks fabulous!
    I think I will make this this coming Sunday for Palm Sunday, thanks Nancy.

  8. Beth Says:

    Oh my gosh, Nancy, isn’t it incredible how similar this is to what I saw in Guatemala? What a fantastic celebration! I’ve just added L’Infiorata to the list of events I’d love to attend. Thanks for sharing this on your blog.

  9. goodfoodmatters Says:

    I know, Beth. I couldn’t believe it when I saw your post. In small towns throughout Italy, l’Infiorata is held in May, is the month that many Catholics revere Mary,and honor her with flowers.

  10. paulette Says:

    Wonderful! I’ve never seen a flower fest like that. Gorgeous. And so is the food! :)

  11. Denise | Chez Danisse Says:

    Oh my goodness… Your description of your trip to Pisoniano. Wonderful!

    You’ve reminded me that I have been away from blue cheese for too long. Your sweet heat dressing looks delicious, the perfect accompaniment for this salad.

  12. La Cuisine d'Hélène Says:

    I am dreaming of this trip now. I used fennel in my pasta sauce last night. It does gives dishes such a unique taste.

  13. goodfoodmatters Says:

    It does impart a unique and wonderful flavor. Thanks for stopping by, Helene–I look forward to visiting your site as well.

  14. Barbara Greene Says:

    Such gorgeous pics…the flowers in Italy as well as the food! I have been treated to your fabulous pork roast, and fab salads. This salad is a bit different, but looks yummy as well. It almost looks to pretty to eat with such vibrant colors. And beautiful display.

  15. Juliana Says:

    Beautiful and delicious meal Nancy…such a great combo…heart pork with fennel and the light and refreshing salad.
    The pictures of the flowers are super awesome…thanks for sharing it and making my day nicer.
    Have a beautiful weekend :D

  16. Jayne Says:

    Glorious Flowers and Scrumptious Meal!

  17. Teresa, foodonfifth Says:

    Oh wow Nance those flower displays are fantastic. I am sure “live” they were just amazing. Italy is just full of surprises for us gringos!
    What a great way to eat Pork…the Italian way of course and that salad is just to die for. Very intriguing combination of ideas in this post.

  18. Infiorata Pisoniano Says:

    We read this article: thank you for your nice words about our Flower Art Festival and Trattoria Bacco. We’re so happy you passed a good day in our little village, Pisoniano.
    We would like to take this opportunity to invite you all to come back for the festival of flowers, the floral, Sunday, June 22. You can visit Pisoniano, admire our “Poem of flower” and visit the Canapa’s Museum, where a photographic show will be set up downstairs.
    June 22 is the festivity of the “Corpus Christi” and for this joyful day Bacco restaurant offers a set menu at € 25 (reservations are necessary).

    you can found us on facebook: https://www.facebook.com/infiorata.pisoniano

    Bye :)

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