Of the 40+ Market Haul columns that I've written so far, all but five were about edible fruits and vegetables. True, farmers' markets are produce treasure troves, but they offer so much more than what grows in the ground. Last month, I wrote about cheese (goat's milk cheddar, to be precise). Now it's time to focus on meat — specifically pancetta.
Pancetta is a deliciously fatty pork preparation that's very similar to bacon. In fact, both products are made by curing pork belly. The difference lies in how the meat is cured.
How to choose it
The meat sold at farmers' markets is often frozen, so it can be hard to judge quality by appearance. Talk to the vendor about how you want to use it, and he or she can recommend the right cut.
If you're buying fresh pancetta, look for pieces with pink and damp meat, creamy-colored fat, and a thin rind. Make sure that your pancetta doesn't look slimy or smell spoiled.
How to use it
Many recipes will call for cooked pancetta, which is very easy to prepare. Specific cook times will vary depending on the thickness and cut of the meat; personally, I prefer the texture and chewiness of diced (or cubed) pancetta. Whatever your cut, simply fry it in a pan for a few minutes until it's cooked through. Then you can use it to add smokiness and fat to pasta, vegetables, eggs, soups, and any other dishes in which you'd normally use bacon or ham.
How to store it
Keep frozen pancetta in the freezer until you're almost ready to use it. Then let it thaw for several hours in the refrigerator before you start cooking.
If you buy fresh pancetta, store it in the fridge. Since it’s raw, make sure it's sealed well and kept away from other items. It should last for a few weeks, but I recommend asking your vendor for specific use-by dates when you make your purchase.