Chicago cafe serves up Italian comfort food

January 9, 2009 10:21:18 AM PST
To combat the cold, ABC7's Hungry Hound is looking for dishes with a serious comfort factor this week. He focuses Friday on an Italian favorite that takes a long time to make, but he says the flavor and texture are worth the wait.

In Italy, you'll see porchetta stands everywhere. To Italians, they're the ultimate comfort food: slow-roasted pork sandwiched between beautiful hunks of bread. However, there are few places in Chicago you can find homemade porchetta. The Hungry Hound located one restaurant on North Michigan Avenue that has turned the classic comfort food into a staple on its winter menu.

"This is the hot dog or Italian beef of Italy?porchetta," said Jason Goldsmith, manager of Cafe Spiaggia.

The café is tucked into the corner of Michigan and Oak Streets, and the restaurant is taking the sandwich to new heights.

"Porchetta, very simply by definition in Italy, is a whole-roasted suckling pig that has been de-boned and stuffed with at least two ingredients which are garlic and rosemary," Goldsmith said.

They start by slicing open a giant pork butt, elongating it, then slathering on a stuffing of garlic, rosemary, fennel and pancetta - the Italian's answer to bacon. It's rolled up into a cylinder, then tied up with string to keep it all together. Sealed in foil, it goes into a 325-degree oven for about six hours.

"There are places in Italy who will put this in the morning and take it out for dinner. So, it could roast for six hours, eight hours, ten hours even," said Goldsmith.

After it roasts, it's left to cool, which keeps much of the fat and juice intact. It also firms up the pork, making it easier to slice. The thick slices are placed on a hot plate with oil, then roasted in a wood-burning oven until crisp on the outside.

Meanwhile, a skillet full of sliced garlic, calabrese pepper and rapini is sauteed together until cooked through.

On the plate, some white corn polenta anchors the rapini and peppers, followed by the roasted porchetta, which has been enriched with veal and chicken stock. That forms a nice, hearty sauce. Bits of fennel pollen are added at the very end for one last note of flavor.

The long, slow cooking transforms the pork into something soft, earthy and fork-tender.

"What we've heard from more than one Italian is that this kind of makes them think of home," Goldsmith said.

If you do decide to visit Cafe Spiaggia to try the porchetta, just call ahead to make sure they haven't run out. Since it takes quite a while to make, it's not something they can easily whip up.

Cafe Spiaggia

980 N. Michigan Ave.