Monday, January 25, 2010

Pantry Item: Pancetta

Well, no I don't keep it in my pantry. But much like a pantry item, I always have a block of Pancetta on hand in my freezer. It is my go to food item for injecting flavor into nearly any dish.

Pancetta can be found in a few different forms, diced, sliced, or whole. Where I live, finding it whole can be difficult. At many markets now you can find it diced or sliced with prepackaged deli meats. When I found it whole at Market Basket, I stopped looking elsewhere.  I prefer it whole because it gives me more options on how to use it. Most often I dice it in either a medium or a small dice, and render it up before starting a dish. I love to use it to start soups or risottos. In my mind, anything hearty could use a bit of Pancetta.

Pancetta is a pork belly rolled or prepared in flat slabs of muscle and fat. Unlike bacon, Pancetta is not smoked but simply cured with salt, pepper, and sometimes nutmeg or fennel. It is then dried for a few months. My preferred way to use Pancetta is to render it over medium-high heat until slightly crispy and then after removing the cooked diced Pancetta from the pan, I drain about 50% of the fat off but use the rest to sautée onions or other vegetables. Since Pancetta is a salted meat, I rarely ever salt a dish that has Pancetta as an ingredient.

I regularly put crispy Pancetta in quiche, salads, scrambled eggs, pasta dishes, and of course all those aformentioned hearty dishes.