For Mike Nicastro, who heads up the kitchen at Il Negozio Nicastro, the multi-day process of rolling, rubbing, brining, and cooking a giant crispy-skinned porchetta — a traditional Roman roast of pork belly, loin, and shoulder stuffed with aromatic herbs and garlic — is a labour of love.
Until recently, his porchetta was showcased hot from the oven on Friday evenings at Caffe Ventuno, but the Nicastro family recently closed the restaurant to allow for a major expansion of the take-out food shop and traditional coffee bar (more on that story coming to City Bites soon). The succulent porchetta remains a staple at the deli counter at both Il Negozio Nicastro locations (1355 Wellington West and in the Glebe at 792 Bank St).
For the last 3 years Luigi Meliambro — the peppy personality behind Cheezy Luigi’s pizzeria in Chelsea — has been urging his buddy Mike Nicastro to start up a side-business selling his terrific porchetta. At first they envisioned a food truck, but were quickly discouraged by the red tape involved. Instead, they have decided to launch the venture without an address, using their respective kitchens for porchetta production and the moniker “bootleg” to allude to the quirky, fly-by-night, catch-us-if-you-can spirit.
Their idea is to offer three styles of porchetta (ranging from a full suckling pig, to a 30-40 lb roast to a smaller version for home use), sold either cooked or uncooked. They can supply delis or restaurants with porchetta as a wholesale product as well as a showpiece for catering and events (in the same way customers order up platters of oysters from the Whalesbone). The pair of cooks are also imagining serving up juicy porchetta sandwiches at various festivals around town, the same way it’s done all over Italy.
“Mike’s the porchetta man,” says Luigi. “I’m going to learn.” Chef Nicastro recently returned from a trip to Rome where he went on a porchetta-tasting mission. “You have to get the spices right,” he says “ And the way you cook it makes all the difference.” Mike says he’s also planning to produce porchetta condiments — sweet and sour pickled onion, pickled fennel and homemade mostarda.
Luigi is focused on the marketing side of things. He recently served porchetta to the crowds attending the annual pizza eating contest at Oz Kafe and plans to approach local beer festivals. He says: “This could be the next pulled pork.”