Pancetta is an Italian meat that is dry cured with salt and various spices. It is basically Italian bacon. Unlike American bacon, pancetta is not smoked. So when you add pancetta to pasta or any other recipe, you get the lovely pork flavor without the smokiness of American bacon. Another difference is that pancetta usually comes rolled into a spiral shape. Pancetta is a wonderful substitution for American bacon or proscuitto - it's not as strongly flavored as proscuitto.
This weekend, I decided to experiment with pancetta. I have never cooked with it in the past (and only recently found out it existed!) First, I decided to have a go with a pasta dish - pancetta is Italian, pasta is Italian - sounded like a winner. And it was delicious!
Mini Pasta with Creamy Pancetta and Pea Sauce
adapted from Jamie's Food Revolution by Jamie Oliver
10 slices pancetta
1/4 teaspoon dried mint
salt and pepper
1 lb mini pasta (I used mini-elbows)
blob of butter
2 cups frozen peas
1 pint heavy whipping cream
1/2 a lemon
6 oz Parmesan cheese
First, boil water for the pasta. Slice the pancetta into small strips, add the pasta to its pot of water, and then put a large pan or wok over medium heat on the stove. When the pan is hot, throw in the blob of butter and a little bit of olive oil* and then add the pancetta. Sprinkle with pepper and continue to cook, stirring frequently, until pancetta is crisp. Next, add the frozen peas and then the heavy whipping cream and mint. After draining the pasta, add it to the pan with everything else. Squeeze the halved lemon over the pan. Add the Parmesan cheese and stir, stir, stir! Get everything mixed together until there's a nice, creamy sauce evenly coating everything. Remove from heat and serve.
*I recently learned from Nigella Lawson's How to Eat that adding a little bit of olive oil when you're cooking with butter will keep the butter from burning. Definitely a good thing to remember!
Next up, I decided to do a dip with caramelized onions (a current obsession) and pancetta.
Pancetta and Caramelized Onion Dip
(makes enough for a bunch of folks)
1 cup caramelized onions
1/2 cup cooked pancetta (about 5 slices)
1 1/2 cups sour cream
3/4 cup mayo
1/4 teaspoon garlic salt
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon white pepper
Caramelize onions and cook pancetta, allowing both to cool. Put them in a food processor and chop up a little. Mix the sour cream and mayo in a big bowl, then add the chopped pancetta and onions and spices. Mix everything thoroughly and chill in the fridge for an hour. Then serve with chips or veggies. I think the caramelized onions and pancetta add a yummy twist to ordinary dip. I think this would also be delicious served in a bread bowl.