I admittedly knew very little about pancetta when I first got into cooking. If you’re anything like I was then I’m here to help! Pancetta is an Italian pork belly bacon that’s been salt cured. It can be shaved thin and eaten raw, like in an antipasto platter or it can be diced and cooked. Once cooked like in this recipe it becomes crunchy, much like the traditional bacon you’re used to.
12 ounces or 3/4 of a 1 lb. box of pasta (I used linguine)
1/2 cup pasta water
2 garlic cloves
1/4 cup milk
1/8 cup parmesan
4 ounces pancetta
Juice of half a lemon
Pinch of Italian seasoning
2 tablespoons butter
1 1/2 cups frozen peas
Mascarpone cheese, for topping
Crisp pancetta over medium, medium high heat in a shallow pot or cast iron skillet, the same way you would bacon. While your pancetta is cooking, boil your pasta in salted water until al dente. Be sure and save 1/2 cup of pasta water (the liquid your pasta just cooked in), set aside. Once desired crunchiness is reached for your pancetta, drain it on a paper towel. To the pancetta pot melt 2 tablespoons butter, with a pinch of Italian seasoning and minced garlic cloves, saute until fragrant (about a minute). Add to your butter and garlic mixture the milk and pasta water, I start with only a 1/4 cup of pasta water to see how the consistency is. If you’re happy with it, don’t add any more pasta water, if you want a thinner sauce, feel free to add more. Stir your sauce occasionally until everything is combined and warmed through, about 3-5 minutes should do. Next take your sauce off of the heat and stir in your parmesan cheese. While your sauce is coming together warm your peas. To finish off, toss your pasta in the sauce with the peas, then top each bowl with pancetta, a tablespoon of mascarpone and a squeeze of fresh lemon juice.
I absolutely love the pre-packaged diced pancetta from Trader Joe’s. Talk about a short cut, it makes this dish one easy, delicious, weeknight dinner. Now when cooking this, the sauce doesn’t look like much, but all of the flavors are there. The saltiness and crunch of the pancetta, sweetness from the peas, lemon juice brings the acid while butter and mascarpone add richness, it’s just perfect.
If you don’t have a Trader Joe’s near you, look for pancetta in the deli or specialty meat section of your grocery store and be sure to dice it fine before cooking. Same goes when looking for the mascarpone, it’s usually by other soft specialty cheeses such as brie and feta. If you cannot find either pancetta or mascarpone you could make an american version of this dish using bacon and cream cheese. I’m happy to report all 3 of my kids ate this up! I’ve made it a few times now and bowls are cleaned every time.