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Pancetta is pork belly that has been salt cured and spiced. Spices used for this include pepper, nutmeg, garlic, fennel and dried hot peppers. It is eaten on its own or added to other dishes for flavor and zest. It may be straight or rolled, usually with the fat on one side.

Pancetta produced in some regions of Italy like Calabria and Piacenza enjoys 'Protected Designation of Origin Status' from the European Union, which consists of regulations made to protect local produce from facing unfair competition from unauthentic products made by foreign players. Many other varieties are covered by protected status of the Italian government.

Ingredients Used and Popular Methods of Preparation of Pancetta

Ingredients: The primary ingredients used include pork belly, garlic, peppercorns, salt and spice mix.

Method of Preparation: To prepare it, the pork is taken in a flat bottomed utensil and dusted with finely ground salt and sprinkled with ground garlic can cloves. After this, it is covered with a number of other spices in ground spices like peppercorns, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, etc. and another layer of salt. The layers of spices and salt are pressed into the meat to allow it to stick. The meat is left aside for about 20 days, after which it is holed and tied with a string in a place which has proper ventilation. It is allowed to stay here for a month. After one month the pork is ready, and can be sliced for use.

Serving Pancetta

When served on its own, it is served in the form of thin slices. In Spain, it is cut in thick and long portions which are fried in olive oil or in its own fat and served as a side dish. It is popularly eaten for breakfast in some villages in Spain along with chorizo and fried eggs.

Pancetta is also added to various other dishes for flavor. Several Pancetta recipes suggest use of the pork in the form of small cubed pieces.

Pancetta Recipes

Besides being eaten on its own, it is added to various dishes for flavor. Here are some of the most popular pancetta recipes-

• PLT or Pancetta, Lettuce and Tomato Sandwich: This is prepared by toasting bread, spreading mayonnaise on it, and adding lettuce, tomato and pancetta in between the two slices of toasted bread. It is called BLT or Bacon, Lettuce and Tomato sandwich when other forms of bacon are used.

• Pizza: Pizza is one of the common pancetta recipes. Pizza can be topped with pancetta along with other ingredients for topping like cheese, tomato and chili. The flavor of the spiced pork blends into the rest of the pizza on cooking, to give it a delicious flavor.

• Spaghetti with Pancetta and Mushrooms: In this dish, pancetta is added in diced form, and fried in oil with other ingredients like onion and garlic.

• Stuffed Turkey: This dish consists of roasted turkey filled with pancetta, which has been fried in oil along with onions and garlic and mixed with lemon juice, bread crumbs, basil and parsley.

Popular Pancetta Variations

Rotolata is the name for the rolled form of Pancetta, which has relatively well distributed fat and muscle. It is useful for pancetta recipes involving frying of very thin slices of the pork. It is a popular form in Italy and Spain.

Stesa is a diced form of pancetta which is spiced but not smoked, and is often suggested for use in a range of pancetta recipes. It is popular in US and Italy.

A hot and spicy variant is popular in Southern Italy, which uses ground red pepper that is rubbed into the meat before covering it with salt.

American and English bacon are quite similar forms of pork. They are made from pork belly or sides, unlike Pancetta which is made only from pork belly, and are smoked and shaped in slice-like form, in contrast to pancetta which usually comes in rolled form.

Health and Nutrition Facts about Pancetta

Pancetta is a rich source of protein and fat on account of the pork used to prepare it. It is rich in minerals like phosphorus, sodium, selenium, zinc and potassium. Pork also has a good percentage of iron and magnesium. It is rich in vitamin B6, B12, thiamin, niacin and riboflavin. Pork is considered beneficial for eyes, skin, brain and the nervous system, and also for boosting immunity. Other spices present in Pancetta are known to aid digestion apart from being a good source of essential nutrients.