Rachel Roddy’s recipe for pork, bread and bay skewers with fennel

As is often the case these days, I was inspired by a picture. Of someone else’s dinner, glimpsed like a station through a train window during a high-speed scroll. And I feel self-conscious writing that – ashamed of my compulsive habit, that I spend so much time stuck in a scroll. Anyway, the glimpsed picture of pork and bread spiedini lodged itself in my head like a Post-it or wild seed in a plant pot. Then, a couple of weeks later, another picture of another meal – this time with a few words under it – reminded me about Elizabeth David’s Salt, Spices and Aromatics in the English Kitchen. So I put down my phone and got the book off the shelf.

Now, I want to say it fell open at page 141 like a sign, which has happened before, but it didn’t that day. I flicked through, happy to be reminded what a brilliant and unapologetic writer ED is, and of spiced beetroot salad, macaroni with parmesan (another Post-it), and pork fillet grilled on the skewer.

The latter already had the advantage of the mental Post-it, but the first sentence made the decision: “This is an ingenious little recipe.” Ingenious is a clever word in recipe headings, promising not only something brilliant, but something that will make you feel brilliant and ingenious. And I am susceptible to this sort of promise, especially at the moment.

There are only three ingredients, which I decided to reduce to two: pork and bread (plus seasonings!). Then I added bay leaves and fennel, sliced thinly and baked under the skewers so it, too, collects flavour, so we are up to four.

You want pork tenderloin or fillet for this, and a dense bread that is a day or two old, something Italians refer to as pane raffermo, which means firmed (thanks to the fact it has lost some of its water content, so the crust is soft, but the crumb firm). The word raffermo also frames ageing in an entirely positive way, simply meaning change, as opposed to more stale thoughts.

The ingenious thing about this recipe, and therefore you, is the way the pork and bread cubes work together: the pork juices and fat seep into the bread, which, under the grill, turns golden and crisp on the outside, but goes custardy in the middle (rather like bread pudding). Bay, with its glossy, green leaves that smell and taste like spiced Vicks VapoRub and cinnamon, is a good match for pork; it is also a symbol of wisdom, both acquired and intuitive, and, again, I am happy for any promise of these things.

Looking through Italian cookbooks, spiedini with bread and pork – and maybe pancetta, chicken or sausages, too – are a typically Tuscan thing, although they are no doubt common anywhere there is bread, pork, skewers and a resourceful cook who knows how to make things go further. And they are incredibly good to eat; an ingenious and delicious thing from a fast scroll.

Pork, bread and bay skewers with fennel
Makes 8 skewers, to serve 4

600g pork fillet or tenderloin
200g firm bread
Salt and pepper
Olive oil
16 bay leaves
2 bulbs fennel

Cut the pork and bread into 2½cm cubes and put in a bowl. Sprinkle with salt, grind over some pepper, add a few tablespoon of olive oil, toss well and leave to sit for 10 minutes.

Alternating pork, bread, and bay leaves, push the cubes and leaves on to metal or soaked wooden skewers.

Trim the fennel, cutting away the tough base and fingers, and pulling away the thick outer layer, then slice thinly. Put the fennel in a baking tray, sprinkle with salt, zigzag over some olive oil and toss. Put in the oven at 180C (160C fan)/350F/gas 4 for 15 minutes, then pull out and toss again.

Lay the skewers on the bed of fennel, zigzag over a little more oil, and grill gently for 15-20 minutes, not too near the heat and turning the skewers from time to time. Serve hot.