A superlative roast pork sarnie from Gastronomica
Sometimes, a ham and cheese sandwich is just the ticket—add a packet of crisps and what you have is inimitable nostalgia, certainly if you were among those who spent their childhood packed off with lunch boxes comprising sliced bread smothered in marge, ham and a token sliver of tomato. But if that’s the sort of sarnie you’re after, look elsewhere; for to compare the ham, cheese and tomato sandwiches of British lunchbox infamy to Gastronomica’s porchetta, fior di latte and tomato ciabatta would be like comparing a Vivaldi composition to a nursery rhyme. Both can be lovely in context, sure—but they’re in different leagues.
“My boss Marco, owner of Gastronomica, is very strict when it comes to the ingredients—if it isn’t tasty, we don’t sell it,” says stall manager Germana simply. “He wants everything to be quality, organic and Italian”—and that he’s certainly managed. The porchetta is something to behold: supple pork loin rubbed with Mediterranean herbs (“oregano, thyme, sage”), garlic, salt and pepper, wrapped up in beautifully marbled pork belly and slow roasted for seven hours. “The inside is very tender, then it’s crisp on the outside—like crackling,” says Germana. “We source it from a specialist supplier in Norcia, central Italy—in Italy when you say Norcia, you think porchetta.”
The fior di latte is from Piedmont: “It’s basically a mozzarella but instead of using buffalo milk, they use cow’s milk,” she explains. “It’s very soft and milky. It has a shorter shelf life than mozzarella because while it’s pasteurised, it’s very fresh.” So far, so delicious. “We also put in tomatoes”—at which we falter. Still (reluctantly) wearing our winter coats, hands numbing as we speak, tomatoes seem a little, well… summery.
Bright and bulbous
“If you got them from the supermarket here yes, they would have very thick skin, be very watery and have little flavour,” Germana agrees, before picking up a bright and bulbous cuore di bue (or ‘beefheart’ tomatoes) by way of comparison. “Our tomatoes come from Sardinia or Piedmont, depending on where they are at their best. These are the proper tomatoes for a caprese salad: they’re delicately flavoured, but very juicy. You can see the difference.” The peppers, too, are like nothing we’d seen—“just look at them,” she glows. “Our peppers are from Sicily: they’re huge, and very sweet. They are organic, too.”
The ciabatta is the one thing not imported from Italy; but that’s not to say Marco and the team haven’t ensured it reaches their exacting standards. “It’s made in London by a bakery that created the recipe especially for us,” smiles Germana. “I can’t tell you how many months we were trying and experimenting to get the ciabatta right: it has to be crisp yet soft, puffy but not too heavy. You have to be able to taste the porchetta. But in the end, we got a great product”—soft yet pleasingly chewy, filled with melt-in-the-mouth porchetta, milky fior di latte and sun-ripened tomatoes and peppers, it makes for a very sweet symphony indeed.