What Is Pancetta And What Does It Taste Like?

A crispy cube of pancetta is one of the most purely delicious bites on earth (for carnivores, that is). Unctuous, salty, slightly fatty, and deeply porky, pancetta tastes a bit like a union of bacon and prosciutto — without any smokiness — and it elevates any dish that it's added to. When pancetta and pasta come together, it's magic. 

A cured Italian pork product, pancetta is essentially pork belly that has been seasoned, salted, and lightly spiced, according to MyRecipes. It is pronounced pan-CHET-ta, as noted by La Cucina Italiana. Pancetta is often seasoned and cured with salt, sugar, pepper, juniper, bay leaves, nutmeg, and thyme (via Leite's Culinaria). How delicious does that sound? MasterClass notes that pancetta's curing and drying process usually takes between three and four weeks. Once cured, the pork belly is seasoned and refrigerated, then washed, rolled, and slipped into a casing before being tied and hung. But once you have pancetta that's ready for cooking how do you use it?

How to use pancetta

Pancetta is sold in large hunks, thinly sliced, or chopped into small bits. The small bits are an incredible inclusion in pasta dishes, primarily a slight variation on a classic carbonara or all'amatriciana, which traditionally use guanciale — but we think a pancetta swap is permissible because guanciale can be a tricky ingredient to find! Interestingly enough, Serious Eats notes that there is actually is a form of smoked pancetta called pancetta affumicata, but you'd be mistaken if you just assumed that it is bacon. According to the site, it tastes saltier and has a more seasoned flavor than American bacon.

In addition, pancetta lends amazing flavor to soups and stews, pairs amazingly well with green vegetables, and bolsters salads, pizzas, and much more, according to BBC Food. It can also be a part of a cold antipasto platter or charcuterie board. Crisp, perfectly rendered pancetta blows bacon out of the water any day! Truthfully, it should stand on its own. Hopefully, it is now pancetta's time to step into the spotlight.

How to make pancetta

Making pancetta from scratch takes patience and time, but many grocery stores now stock pancetta alongside prosciutto and bacon, so you can rest assured that even if you don't try to create your own, you'll probably be able to find this porky, salty gem. However, making pancetta doesn't require an abundance of ingredients — and aside from the pork belly itself, you may already have all of the other ingredients on hand. If you did want to pursue making homemade pancetta as a culinary project of sorts, Christina's Cucina outlines a method to do so. She implores using the freshest pork belly available, and notes that it is a multi-day process. Day one involves salting the belly, day two is rinsing and further preparing the pork with wine herbs, and spices, and then two-three weeks of drying and curing the pork belly. After this, your pancetta is ready to go.

From there, you can dice the pancetta, thinly slice it, or enjoy it however you see fit. Depending on its preparation, the pancetta can be used in a multitude of different ways.

Is pancetta good for you?

To help further differentiate, pancetta and bacon are both made with pork belly, whereas prosciutto is made from a pig's back leg, as noted by My Recipes. Pancetta is cured, but not smoked like bacon. While the flavor is clearly inherently that of pork, it tends to be a bit more subtle than bacon, but a bit more forward than prosciutto. Of course, they can all be used interchangeably if you're in a pinch, but their flavors are certainly varied.

SFGATE notes that pancetta, while not an especially good-for-you food, is perfectly suitable in smaller servings. It contains hardly any carbohydrates, sugar, or fiber, but it is somewhat high in calories. It also offers a good amount of protein, and obviously, a lot of fat — saturated, monosaturated, and polyunsaturated. It may also have high sodium. If pancetta is the star of the dish, that particular meal may not be the most nutritionally sound. But if pancetta is merely a "side character," you should be good to go.