What is Pancetta?

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Pancetta is an Italian cured meat made from pork belly. Though pancetta is sometimes called Italian bacon, it has many differences from typical American bacon. Chief among these is that most American bacon is smoked. Italian bacon, on the other hand, is cured meat with salt and several sweet and savory spices. After curing occurs, the bacon is slowly dried.

Parmesan is a hard, aged cheese used in many dishes.
Parmesan is a hard, aged cheese used in many dishes.

There are several different forms of pancetta, mostly available in stores that stock a wide variety of meats, especially Italian meats. One form looks like a slab, which can be cut to lengths desired by the customer. Most of the pork belly fat sits on the top of this slab and both top and bottom may have a dark auburn color. The slab version is called stesa in Italy.

A simple pasta sauce can be made using chunks of pancetta and tomatoes.
A simple pasta sauce can be made using chunks of pancetta and tomatoes.

Another form of this ham is called rotolata, which is rolled and has a more even distribution of fat and muscle. This type is often sliced extremely thinly and fried. Sometimes thin slices are also placed on top of a pizza prior to cooking it. Rotolata is more often used in Spain than Italy.

Thin slices of pancetta can be added atop any simple pizza.
Thin slices of pancetta can be added atop any simple pizza.

Stesa is often more commonly found in the US and is usually the preferred form in Italy. It tends not to be served in thin slices, but is instead diced up to add to a variety of dishes. It will add a little fat, salt, spice and flavor, without the smokiness of traditional American bacon.

One of the classic Italian dishes that uses stesa is spaghetti carbonara. Sometimes people refer to this as the Italian bacon and eggs dish. Normally recipes for carbonara call for a small amount of diced pancetta to be added along with ingredients like scrambled eggs, parsley, garlic, parmesan cheese and cooked pasta. In order to prepare the sauce for carbonara, pancetta is usually cooked first. As with most types of bacon, stesa and rotolata must be cooked fully.

The strong flavor of pancetta means that a little bit goes a long way. For a carbonara recipe that serves four people, a cook would probably use no more than approximately an ounce (28.35 g) of pancetta per serving. Due to the fat content in this Italian meat, small pieces cook down pretty quickly.

Rolotada can also be used to make some classic American dishes. For instance, the bacon in a bacon, lettuce, and tomato sandwich can be substituted with think pieces of rotolada ham. Slices must be cut nearly paper thin, and actually this may be the way this type of pancetta is typically sold. Any stesa or rotolada bought in the round should be sliced to the desired thinness before cooking.

Bacon can often be substituted for pancetta ham.
Bacon can often be substituted for pancetta ham.
Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Tricia has a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and has been a frequent wiseGEEK contributor for many years. She is especially passionate about reading and writing, although her other interests include medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion. Tricia lives in Northern California and is currently working on her first novel.

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Discussion Comments

chefchez

Actually, smoked pancetta is a specialty of northern Italy. Leoncini, a producer of cured pork products in the Veneto region, has started exporting smoked pancetta that can be diced and sautéed to lend haunting flavor to all sorts of dishes.

This pancetta is fully cooked, so it can be sliced for a sandwich or added to a platter of charcuterie, making it easy to appreciate the rich, creamy fat. Fairway sells it for $11.96 a pound.

anon150098

How fattening is Pancetta?

milagros

Pancetta is very flavorful so very little goes a long way, considering that it is high in fat. I remove as much fat as possible, leaving only the brown bits of pancetta. I use chicken stock or wine, if appropriate, to loosen the brown bits from the sauté pan.

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