Carnevale literally means ‘good-bye to the flesh’ and this celebratory time of the year, coming right before the restraints of Lent, is when the people of Venice, Italy (and people throughout the Christian world) go to great excesses. Here is their last chance to over eat and carry on with other hedonistic activities until ash Wednesday, when fasting begins. Carnevale also symbolizes the agricultural year put to rest until the spring earth begins again to pour forth its abundance.
Carnevale in Venice is a blaze of color and activity with people drinking prosecco in the streets, stylish balls held on the piazza, fireworks, elaborate floats, and masked processions on the Grand Canal. Masks supposedly give the partying wearer the amnominity to engage in excesses of all types without being recognized.
If you’d like to celebrate Carnevale, Venetian style, an elegant pork dish is really in order. Here’s my version of a recipe from the Veneto for maile al latte, pork cooked in milk. It’s made with a boneless pork loin so it’s very tender and easy to carve. Serve it with sautéed greens such as spinach or Swiss chard, and a glass or two of Valpolicella.
Maiale al Latte
An approximately 2 pound boneless pork loin, tied
3 garlic cloves, slivered
10 fresh sage leaves, cut into strips, plus about 5 extra leaves, lightly chopped, for garnish
The zest from 1 small lemon, cut into thin strips
Freshly ground black pepper
¼ teaspoon grated nutmeg
Extra virgin olive oil
½ quart whole milk, heated to just boiling
Make a bunch of slits all over the pork with a thin knife. Insert the garlic, sage, and lemon strips into the slits. Season the pork well with salt, black pepper, and the nutmeg.
In a high sided casserole, heat about 2 tablespoons of olive oil over medium-high flame. Add the pork and brown it all over. Now pour on the hot milk, reduce the heat to low, and simmer, uncovered, turning the meat occasionally, until it is just cooked through, about an hour. When the pork is done, the milk will have cooked down to a mass of curdles. This is what you want.
Remove the pork to a cutting board and let it sit for a few minutes. Take off the string and slice in thinly. Lay the pork out on a platter. Spoon the milk curds on top, leaving any that have become too browned in the casserole. Garnish with the remaining sage. Serve hot or warm.
Erica De Mane is a writer and chef. Check out her blog: EricaDeMane.com