Father's Day is about fennel for chef Mario Batali. "Fennel and Dad go together in my family," he says. This statement makes sense once you recall that his father, Armandino Batali, founded Salumi Artisan Cured Meats in Seattle, among whose signature offerings is finocchiona, a salami seasoned with cracked fennel seeds and curry. It's a flavor affinity shared between father and son.
Batali, seen here with his own two sons, has given WineSpectator.com readers a Father's Day gift in the form of his recipe for Arista Toscana, a bone-in roast pork loin with an easy and delicious milk-based pan gravy. Before he began to build the collection of restaurants in New York, Las Vegas and Los Angeles that he co-owns with partner Joseph Bastianich, Batali spent three years cooking at Trattoria La Volta, in the tiny Italian mountain village of Borgo Capanne. Of this recipe, he says, "This was a dish we served for Sunday lunch every week." As it can go straight from oven to carving board to table, or left for up to an hour before serving, this dish makes it easy to accommodate the comings and goings associated with family entertaining.
We've compiled a list of 12 recently rated Tuscan reds to accompany this dish, including a number of Morellino di Scansanos, which Batali recommends as a match, saying he "love[s] it for its fruit and quaffability."
Fennel contributes body and flavor to the pan gravy in Mario Batali's Arista Toscana recipe.
• 22 cloves garlic, peeled
• 3 large Spanish onions, peeled and sliced into 1-inch thick rounds
• 2 fennel bulbs, cut into 1/4-inch-thick slices, fronds removed and reserved
• 1 4-pound bone-in pork loin roast
• Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
• 4 tablespoons fennel pollen (available at www.fennelpollen.com, or may substitute ground fennel seed)
• 2 cups whole milk
• 1/2 cup best-quality extra-virgin olive oil
1. Preheat oven to 400° Fahrenheit.
2. Using the side of a large knife or a food processor, smash 12 of the garlic cloves to paste and distribute evenly in the bottom of a roasting pan large enough to hold the pork loin. Add the sliced onions and fennel, distributed evenly across the bottom of the pan.
3. Season the pork aggressively all over with salt, pepper and fennel pollen, and make five 3-inch-deep incisions along the bone. Stuff two of the remaining cloves of garlic into each of the five incisions, and place the roast in the pan atop the garlic, onions and fennel. Pour the milk over the roast and place in oven for 65 minutes, or until an instant-read thermometer reads 150° Fahrenheit when inserted next to the bone. Remove the roast from oven and transfer the pork to a warm platter.
4. Place half of the cooked onions and fennel and all of the liquid from the pan into a blender or food processor and blend for about 30 seconds, then, with the motor still running, drizzle in the olive oil and process until the sauce is smooth and thick. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
5. Arrange the remaining onions and fennel in a pile on the serving platter and carve the pork off the bone. Slice the meat into 1/2-inch-thick slices and arrange over the vegetables. Pour a few tablespoons of the sauce over the meat and serve immediately with the rest of the sauce in a gravy boat on the side. Serves 8 to 10.