Not sure how to use pancetta? This cured pork belly is more than just ‘Italian bacon‘ — it is a powerhouse ingredient that will surely elevate any dish!
Pancetta is a type of cured meat, or salumi — an Italian cured pork belly, to be exact.
Almost every region in Italy has its way of treating it, but the result will always have a strong meaty taste, slightly salty, and it can be smoked or unsmoked.
Aside from salt, spices like pepper, fennel, and nutmeg are also typically used.
These seasoning and spices impart their flavor on the pork belly and develop as the meat goes through the curing process.
Can I eat it raw?
It is entirely safe to eat because it has been salt-cured.
Salt-curing means that the pork belly is generously treated with sea salt, spices, and seasonings as part of its curing — ultimately impeding bacteria growth in the process.
Pancetta is available as a roll or as straight rashers (flat).
The rolled ones are typical of two kinds:
This type is generally cut into thin slices and served as antipasto — notice the delicate lining of herbs that are also rolled with the meat.
If you look carefully at the image above, you will see darker shades of meat in the center of the roll. Those are bits of capicola or coppa — giving its name coppata.
Refers to the flat or straight rashers, sometimes called pancetta affumicata — because they are salt-cured AND smoked.
These usually are cut into small chunks (or diced) and added to pasta or stews to give them a fuller, more complex flavor.
Pancetta vs. Bacon
If you keep hearing ‘pancetta is just like bacon,’ well, that is both true and false.
- While you can eat any type of pancetta without cooking them, it is not safe to eat raw bacon — you must cook them first.
- While traditionally bacon is made from pork belly, there are now some that include meat from different pig parts.
- The rolled (unsmoked) pancetta has a deeper and richer savory flavor than bacon.
While coming from a different part of a pig, guanciale is also cured, aged, and not smoked.
However, guanciale has a higher fat-to-meat ratio, so you might need to use less if you’re using its oil as the base.
But when it comes to taste, guanciale is an excellent alternative.
Without a doubt, bacon is more available than either pancetta or guanciale — hence, easier to purchase.
That reason alone makes it a great substitute.
As long as you are not using the sweet-flavored type of bacon, it should not completely alter the flavor of your dish.
How to cook it
Use its oil as the base for making risotto, and then add it back once the rice is off the heat.
The result? Sweet, salty, and creamy rice in every serving of this flavor-packed risotto. Absolutely delicious.
If you want to see how pancetta gives more depth and flavor to a simple pasta dish, this is a perfect dish to try.
Combine it with some garlic and crushed tomatoes, and you will have a mouth-watering meal that is ready in less than 30 minutes!
- Packaged. Open the package only when you’re going to use it, and if there’s any left, place it in a sealed container and keep it in the refrigerator for about 10 to 12 days.
- Deli. You can also directly purchase rashers or slices of arrotolata from the delicatessen section of your supermarket.
Regardless of where you buy them from, make sure you never go past the ‘consume-by-date‘ indicated in the package or greaseproof wrapper.
So how about it? Ready to start using pancetta for your next pasta dish? 🙂