Ask the Splendid Table
Lynne Rossetto Kasper explains the difference between pancetta and bacon
Cookbook author Lynne Rossetto Kasper offers this Pan-Browned Scallops with Bacon and Sprouts or Greens recipe as a dinner entrée.
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Dear Lynne: Could you tell me if I can substitute bacon for pancetta in a recipe? Isn't pancetta just the Italian name for bacon?
— Lindsey in BaltimoreDear Lindsey: The short answer is yes, in a pinch, you can substitute bacon for pancetta as long as you understand what that change is going to do to your dish. Both pancetta and bacon are cured pork made from the same cut — the pork belly. And both are often used as part of a flavoring base for things like beans and soups and pastas and vegetables. That said, they taste quite different.
When people call for bacon in a dish, they're usually looking for that smoky, rich taste that bacon brings to the party. Pancetta, on the other hand, is not smoked; it has quieter but deeper pure pork flavors than bacon. So, if you think the recipe can fly with a touch of smoke in it, feel free to use bacon instead of pancetta and vice versa.
If your recipe is one of those pure-as-the-driven-snow Italian creations, and if pancetta is out of the question because of price or availability, there is a way to use bacon. Merely boil it for 2 to 3 minutes to get rid of much of the smoky taste.
Both pancetta and bacon freeze quite well. The best way to freeze bacon is to roll up individual slices into little pinwheels, freeze them on a cookie sheet until hardened and them pop them into a freezer bag. You can pull them out one slice at a time. Pancetta freezes best in 1- to 2-inch-thick slices that you can cut into smaller pieces while still frozen.
Here, bacon is essential to mediate two extremes of sweet scallops and earthy Brussels sprouts or spring greens. When Brussels sprouts aren't to be had, simply sauteing tart greens with the bacon makes a great foil for the scallops.
Use the largest saute pan you have. To get a golden sear, it is essential not to crowd the Brussels sprouts or the scallops.
If the skillet is too crowded (you will see the sprouts or scallops throwing off water), cook them in batches and return everything back to the pan for a final quick reheat just before serving.
Lynne Rossetto Kasper hosts "The Splendid Table," American Public Media's weekly national show. The program airs at 2 p.m. Sundays on KUOW-FM (94.9). Contact Lynne at www.splendidtable.org.
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