This "Italian bacon" is traditionally air-dried for three months and cured with salt, pepper, sugar and seasonings such as cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and juniper berries. After curing, it is rolled up and tied in a casing like salami.
While American and English bacon is taken from the sides and belly of the pig and smoked, pancetta comes only from the belly. It has a more piquant (rather than smoky) flavor, and it lends a savory-sweet taste to an abundance of dishes, particularly risottos, pastas, soups and sauces. In Italy, there are numerous recipes titled "all'amatriciana," meaning "with pancetta."
The most common type of pancetta is rolled, but it can sometimes be found in straight, bacon-like slabs with all the fat on one side. In Italy, different regions produce their own special varieties. Southern Italians, for example, favor a spicy version dry-rubbed with ground red pepper.
Pancetta can be found in Italian markets or the deli section of many supermarkets where it can be sliced to order. It is also available pre-packaged in thin slices or whole rolls that are ready to be sliced or chopped as desired.
Pancetta can be tightly wrapped and refrigerated for up to three weeks, or frozen for up to six months.
When pancetta is not available, try an unsmoked lean bacon or fatty prosciutto.
- Slice very thin and add to antipasto trays.
- Sauté until crisp and toss with warm green beans.
- Toss into a butter lettuce salad with Anjou pears and toasted walnuts.
- Use as a pizza topping along with fontina cheese and red bell peppers.
- Bake slices until crisp and golden and top with goat cheese.
- Sauté with butter and stir into your favorite cornbread batter.