Pancetta is bacon, Italian style. It is cured, rather than cooked through a heating method, making it safe and ready to eat right from the package. On sandwiches and in appetizers, pancetta should be sliced almost paper-thin, otherwise the meat is too tough to eat. The thicker slices are generally diced or chopped and fried, then added to pasta dishes or sauces.
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Rolled or Slab
In Italy, pancetta is usually prepared and sold in slabs. In most other countries, including America, it comes in a roll. Both styles come from pork belly, but pancetta rolls get their shape from the meat and fat being rolled together. Spain is another country that serves up pancetta off the slab, sliced and fried just like American bacon. Rolled pancetta is more labor intensive; homemade pancetta is usually done in slab form.
The Curing Process
Curing meat for preservation purposes goes way back into history — even the ancient Egyptians did it. Making pancetta requires a pork belly, salt and seasonings. The salt will prevent bacteria growth and spoilage from ruining the meat. Seasonings differ, usually by region, but commonly include pepper, nutmeg, fennel and coriander. Once seasoned and salted, the meat is air dried in a cool, low-humidity place for over a month.
Uncooked Recipe Ideas
Rolled pancetta, sliced very thinly, can be piled on a sandwich, served on a tray with other salumi as antipasti or wrapped around sweet or savoring fillings. For a light treat, wrap some pancetta around vine-ripened fruit such as peaches or pears. Top with a drizzle of balsamic vinegar and basil for a culinary delight.
Cooked Recipe Ideas
Pancetta from a slab works best for cooking. You can easily cut a thick slab and fry it up, American style or cut it into small cubes and add to some tomato puree for a quick and tasty pasta sauce. Thin slices work well wrapped around asparagus or shrimp and grilled to perfection. Pancetta can also top a pizza instead of sausage or pepperoni.