1/3 plus 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
4 pounds boneless pork shoulder, trimmed of excess fat
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon freshly ground pepper
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 small onions, minced (about 2 cups)
4 to 5 cups whole milk
The cuisine of Bologna and Emilia-Romagna would not exist without pork, whose delicate taste and rich golden color make it the undisputed star of Bologna's best-loved dishes. One of the most traditional dishes of Bologna is a loin of pork braised gently in milk on top of the stove, until the meat is tender and the milk has thickened and browned into glazed clusters of sauce. The last time I was in Bologna I discovered a variation that produced an even more tender meat, made with a boneless pork shoulder, a fattier meat, which was slowly braised in the oven, not on top of the stove. I loved it.
Preheat the oven to 300F.
Heat the oil in a large, heavy ovenproof skillet (one with a lid) over medium-high heat. Season the pork on all sides with the salt and pepper, and add to the pan, fat side down. Cook, turning, until the meat has a nice golden color, about 10 minutes. Transfer to a large platter.
Discard the fat from the pan and wipe clean with paper towels. Return the pan to medium-low heat and add the butter. As soon as the butter begins to foam, add the onions and cook, stirring, until soft and pale yellow, 6 to 7 minutes. Place the pork over the onions and add enough milk to come about one third of the way up the sides of the meat. As soon as the milk comes to a boil, turn off the heat, cover the pan with heavy-duty foil, and top with the lid. Place the pan on the middle rack of the oven and cook, basting and turning the meat every 30 or 40 minutes, until it easily flakes when pierced with a fork, about 3 hours.
Transfer the meat to a cutting board and cover loosely with foil. Place the pan on medium-high heat and cook, stirring, until the remaining milk has reduced and coagulated into thick, brown clusters. Cut the meat (it will probably fall apart), and place on warm serving dishes. Top with the browned milk clusters and serve hot.
Courtesy Biba's Italy, by Biba Caggiano, Workman Publishing, 2006