Charcutepalooza: Bacon and pancetta

February’s Charcutepalooza challenge was like a gift from the gods: Not only do Neil and I both like love bacon and pancetta, but we have actually made it before – for another food challenge involving Michael Ruhlman – the BLT from Scratch challenge in the summer of 2009, back when my blog was just a baby.  So we approached this not with trepidation, more like impatience, knowing what delectable treats were in store for us as the end of the curing process 🙂

Bacon and pancetta are ridiculously easy. You cure them in pink salt and whatever spices and flavours take your fancy for about a week, then you clean them up and, in the case of the pancetta, you either roll it or hang it to dry for another 10 days or so.  A lot of what goes on in curing meats is by “feel” and I am lucky that Neil seems to know what he is doing and what smells and feels right.

This time around, we did maple bacon and a spicy pancetta with juniper berries…

I was pretty happy with our Rowe Farms piggy belly – not too fatty at all (last time we did bacon the belly was incredibly fatty and it was a shame that there was not more meat) and it came out of the cure looking perfect…

We cut the belly in halves and then cut the pancetta half in half again, planning to roll one part and hang the rest as was…

Neil got busy with the cheesecloth (we decided to wrap it because our humidity is fairly low – the cheesecloth slows the rate of moisture evaporation – and also our meats hang in our basement where there may or may not be creepy crawlies)…

And, ahem, someone was pretty excited to help…

And despite the fact that it was frigid outside, Neil headed out to fire up the barbecue and the smokebox for the bacon…  We used applewood chips in a cast iron container without a lid right on the flame grill with the bacon right on top on the opposite side of the barbecue.  We kept the flame at the lowest possible level for 3.5 hours (average temp never exceeded about 150F).

We had the taste tester check it out, as usual…

And it looked gorgeous…

A few days later, we broke out the bacon for breakfast…

You can see the bottom is slightly darker because it was probably left in the cure a day or so too long, and there was so little fat that the meat simply drank in the salt and it dried up.  A little on the salty side that edge but the rest, wow!  I loved that it wasn’t too fatty though I know someone who probably thinks it could have used some more fat…

After a few more days, we cut into the unrolled pancetta… Oh my, isn’t it gorgeous?

Again, a little darker on one end because of slight overcuring but still beautiful quand-même!

Our rolled pancetta is still “hanging out” so watch out for it on the blog soon…

So what did we do with all this meaty goodness?  It’s been cold in these here parts, so I was craving some comfort food and who better to ask than Mario Batali – lover of pasta and all things meat-related!  I own Molto Italiano (check it out here on Amazon US or Amazon Canada) which has a ton of great Italian meals, simple, back to basics dishes made with seasonal ingredients.

I was particularly smitten with his recipe for Bucatini all’Amatriciana, which calls for bacon, pancetta or guanciale and Mario writes in the notes that “if you decide not to make your own guanciale, I suggest you order it from my dad.” A Charcutepalooza-er if I ever saw one!

A simple dish, the bucatini is served with a tomato sauce, studded with diced bacon and a touch of chili flakes.  I used Mario’s basic tomato sauce which is onions, garlic, carrots (!), thyme and tomatoes.  So easy (the sauce and the pasta dish) yet so flavourful.

You can find the recipe here. I will absolutely be making this again – and soon!  The tomato sauce is so simply yet fresh and flavourful and sweet, pairing really well with the slightly salty bacon and sticking beautifully to the fat lengths of pasta.  It’s my new “go-to” pasta. Providing I can keep the house stocked with bacon 😉

For the pancetta, I wanted to make a spaghetti carbonara. A proper one. No cream involved (not that there’s anything wrong with cream, mind you…).  Mario says this dish “can be slightly tricky in its execution” – just what I like to hear 😉  If handling raw meat and curing it didn’t scare you off, a dish made with raw egg yolk that “cooks” in the heat of the pasta might. Not to be deterred, I set about this, determined not to kill anyone 😉  You can find Mario’s recipe here.

This is definitely something I need to make again to get it right.  My egg whites cooked fast in my hot pasta and pasta water and my “sauce” didn’t quite achieve the creaminess it should have. But I served the raw egg yolk to Neil and allowed him to mix it in and “cook” it himself…

Me? I stirred in my egg yolk whilst it was still in the pan. Yup, I’m a chicken. And if I were not so tired, I might have a funny joke about chickens and eggs…

But the taste? This was unbelievable. I will never make carbonara with cream again. Even not being as optimally creamy as it ought to have been, this was fantastic. Such simple flavours, it really allowed the pancetta to shine. It was, most definitely, the star of the dish. Even if it wasn’t as showy as its pal the egg yolk…

Coming up over the next few days, a couple more uses for our bacon and pancetta. Like all good things, it’s worth the wait, believe me 🙂

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77 Responses to Charcutepalooza: Bacon and pancetta

  1. Blog is the New Black February 15, 2011 at 05:42 #

    All these uses for bacon and pancetta- like I needed an excuse! 😉

  2. Chez Loulou February 15, 2011 at 05:45 #

    Ok, that pancetta…seriously gorgeous!
    This is my favorite Carbonara recipe. Delicious every time! http://gratineeblog.com/2010/11/marcella-hazans-spaghetti-carbonara/

    • Mardi@eatlivetravelwrite February 18, 2011 at 09:04 #

      Ah, Marcella Hazen – the dame of Italian cooking! Yes, I will try that one next time 🙂

  3. Mosaica February 15, 2011 at 06:39 #

    Mardi –beautiful post! I love the pictures of your pancetta especially; you really sourced some *great* pork belly for your project. And your kitty is pretty adorable too 🙂

  4. Belinda @zomppa February 15, 2011 at 07:02 #

    Wow. Having this in the refrigerator is like having a gold mine!

  5. Liz February 15, 2011 at 07:43 #

    Wow, what an incredible project…such fabulous results. And your sweet, furry assistant is SO cute!!!

  6. Mr. Neil February 15, 2011 at 08:27 #

    Not much to add, really – other than this is all so wonderful. I tend to trust people who eat bacon more than those who don’t… 😉

    I sort of knew my cure would be a tad strong on one side of the belly, as it had remarkably little fat on that edge – and I was out three nights in a row, so had to delay taking out of the cure.

    For those who want more detail: bacon cured with maple sugar flakes and drizzled maple sugar. It was a subtle addition – not too maply-sugary.

    The pancetta was cured with a healthy number of crushed juniper berries, cracked Australian peppercorns, kafir lime leaves and a pinch of allspice.

    I’m a traditionalist: am waiting for the roll. (Much larger, so needs more time to dry out – still a bit too squishy to bring up for Mardi’s photo shoot.)

    As for the food, all scrumptuous. I LOVED the traditional presentation of the spaghetti carbonara.

    Wine pairings lead logically to reds from Italy for these dishes (think Chianti). However I mixed things up, serving a Californian Pinot Noir with the carbonera. It was described as being a little heavier for a Pinot, and had the food-friendly acidity of a Chianti to hold it’s own. (I’d have been fooled in a blind tasting.) A winner. For the bucatini I paired a Cabernet Franc / Cabernet Sauvingnon blend from Niagara. The bottle didn’t list percentages, but I’d say likely 75% CF or thereabouts. Even with Mardi nicely putting in some extra chili to suit my tastes, this wine held up and didn’t clash.

  7. Rochelle (Acquired Taste) February 15, 2011 at 09:44 #

    Wow, Mardi! The pancetta looks especially gorgeous! I haven’t ever thought about making my own pancetta or bacon but ever since the hubby mentioned that his grandmother knows how to make presunto I’ve wanted to do it myself… I’ll have to add pancetta and bacon to my list as well 😀

  8. KA B L O O E Y February 15, 2011 at 09:56 #

    I concede, I’m salivating to an undignified degree. The meats look gorgeous, as do the finished meals. Beautiful shots; beautiful food. And I also really appreciate Mr. Neil’s Vino Picks. I got some good ideas from each of you, so thanks!

  9. jenjenk February 15, 2011 at 09:57 #

    wow! that came out so beautifully!!! how inspiring!!!

  10. Tiffany Rosenberger February 15, 2011 at 11:20 #

    What a great job. This is definitely inspiring me to try it.

  11. Irena February 15, 2011 at 11:39 #

    Love your post, you guys are fantastic. My grandparents used to do drying meets and bacon when I was little.
    Such an amazing flavors.
    Thanks for posting:)

    • Mardi@eatlivetravelwrite February 18, 2011 at 09:02 #

      Isn’t it wonderful how people are bringing back the art of meat curing that their grandparents used to practice 🙂

  12. Kate @ Diethood.com February 15, 2011 at 12:03 #

    Oh my word… love it! I wish I was that kitty! I’ve made my own bacon but not pancetta… time to change that. Thanks for sharing, Mardi.

  13. Celia February 15, 2011 at 13:34 #

    Amatriciana and Carbonara! Two best pastas ever! I’m totally moving past bacon and trying pancetta next time I get my hands on some pork belly.

  14. Kristina February 15, 2011 at 14:46 #

    Your bacon is beautiful! And I love the photos of your kitty.

    As you know, I did Bucatini all’Amatriciana using my home cured Guanciale for Charcutepalooza. It’s always been one of my favorite pastas to order in Rome, but for some reason I rarely made it at home. Now I have no excuse, it’s just way too easy and a great way to utilize that home cured bacon or guanciale.

    By the way, I won’t eat raw egg yolks either. 😉

    • Mardi@eatlivetravelwrite February 18, 2011 at 09:00 #

      Yes Bucatini all’Amatriciana will rejoin our rotation of weeknight meals – so easy but so good!

  15. The BBQ Grail February 15, 2011 at 19:28 #

    What an amazing work of art all this is. Great, great job.

  16. Judy February 15, 2011 at 19:34 #

    one of the BEST dishes I ever had was a spicy tomato sauce served HOT with the raw egg yolk on top!!!! pretty and fabulous- thanks for reminding me- I am in US now and can’t wait to get home to cut open my pancetta!! I also did guanciale–

    • Mardi@eatlivetravelwrite February 18, 2011 at 08:59 #

      Oh that sounds fabulous – tomato sauce with raw egg yolk 🙂 And I know what you mean about the pancetta – I am so impatient!

  17. Ethan February 15, 2011 at 20:06 #

    where to begin? I think I’ll start with Mr. Neil. I love the insight from the “Kitchen correspondent” including the wine pairings.
    I thought the post was told from a very interesting perspective since virtually everyone seems to be a rookie when it comes to curing. I would suspect that everything you learned the first time around made this experience even more successful.
    Now that Neil lived through his carbonara, you can do it raw in the bowl next time. One of my fondest meals in Italy a couple of years ago was a bowl of carbonara after visiting the Cappella Sistina.
    And as usual, the pictures are terrific, especially the egg waiting to be mixed in with the pancetta goodness:)

    • Mardi@eatlivetravelwrite February 18, 2011 at 08:59 #

      I am glad people are enjoying Neil’s wine pairings and commentary. I think we definitely learned from our first experience and this was definitely superior to the first lot! And yes, next time, I might do the raw egg yolk. Maybe!

  18. Happy When Not Hungry February 15, 2011 at 20:11 #

    I’m totally impressed! I love pancetta and bacon. Definitely don’t need an excuse to eat it or cook with it. That bucatini looks amazing too!

    • Mardi@eatlivetravelwrite February 18, 2011 at 08:57 #

      Yes and even though this did not make a lot of either, I would prefer a small amount of quality product than a large amount of something not so tasty!

  19. s. February 15, 2011 at 20:32 #

    Ok, first I had duck envy and now I am envious of your pancetta. Absolutely picture perfect and it’s good to know that you also have a rambunctious black cat in your kitchen, too!

  20. Winnie February 15, 2011 at 22:37 #

    Looks really great Mardi- fabulous photos of both your bacon and the pancetta!

  21. penny aka jeroxie February 15, 2011 at 23:25 #

    now i am totally inspired to make some myself this winter…. AWESOME!

  22. Fuji Mama February 15, 2011 at 23:25 #

    Mmmm, I haven’t made pancetta since the BLT Challenge! Now I’m wondering why I haven’t…you’ve reminded how AMAZING it is when you make it yourself! Both your bacon and pancetta look incredible! Swoon!

    • Mardi@eatlivetravelwrite February 18, 2011 at 08:55 #

      It’s easy to get caught up in other things but when it comes down to it, there is something fabulous about making something so basic!

  23. Prerna@IndianSimmer February 15, 2011 at 23:27 #

    You made your own bacon?? You made ur own Pancetta too???!! WOW!! Can I move closer to you 🙂
    They look gorgeous!

  24. sara @CaffeIna February 15, 2011 at 23:41 #

    I’m with Mr Neil in trusting people who eat bacon more than those who don’t 🙂 that’s why we have weekly home brunch with our friends where bacon is usually the star. Great job guys!

  25. davide February 16, 2011 at 03:51 #

    Seriously? i’m italian and the spaghetti alla carbonara with ENTIRE egg is so funny………….

    • Mardi@eatlivetravelwrite February 16, 2011 at 06:04 #

      Thanks for stopping by. If you read the post, you will see the whole yolk is just presentation, and is mixed in quickly to cook in the warm spaghetti, forming a creamy sauce with no cream.

  26. SMITH BITES February 16, 2011 at 09:36 #

    perfecto Mardi, absolutely perfecto!!! beautifully executed, beautiful photos and LOVED Neil’s additional comments. juniper berry pancetta is to die for!

    • Mardi@eatlivetravelwrite February 18, 2011 at 08:53 #

      Thanks – sometimes he doesn’t get the information to me in time to post so I am glad people are reading the comments too!

  27. Cecilia February 16, 2011 at 09:57 #

    Mardi, your bacon looks great. I can not believe how easy it was to cure bacon at home. I bet the bucatini all’amatriciana was delicious! Can’t wait to see how your pancetta turns out!

  28. Julia February 16, 2011 at 14:05 #

    Mardi, this all looks amazing! How does the pancetta differ from the bacon? Is there a noticeable difference in taste? It’ll be interesting to taste the difference in the rolled pancetta, too…I’ll look forward to hearing about that!

    • Mr. Neil February 16, 2011 at 16:36 #

      I can answer…taste is quite different.

      Bacon was cured with lots of maple flakes, and a drizzle of maple sugar, and then smoked with apple wood.

      Pancetta was cured with spices, then with extra crushed juniper berries and things whilst hanging. No smoking.

      So I’d probably say the pancetta is more “porky” than “bacony”, and the bacon sweeter and milder. (Gee, great word usage…)

      I’ll let Mardi add to that if she wishes!

      • Mardi@eatlivetravelwrite February 18, 2011 at 08:52 #

        I was just going to write that the pancetta tasted more like pork and the bacon was sweeter and less “meaty”. Oh boy. We need to work on our meat description vocabulary!

  29. Chez Us February 16, 2011 at 18:10 #

    Outstanding job! I cannot decide which one I want to sink my teeth into first, the bacon or the pancetta. Both pasta dishes are out of this world as well – YUM!

  30. StephIrey February 16, 2011 at 22:48 #

    Mardi & Neil…the bacon and pancetta both look incredible! And the carbonara is just over the top. Neil, thanks for the advice on the duck breast…I finally got it to finish curing after moving it to a lower humidity environment!

  31. Danielle February 17, 2011 at 01:52 #

    Again, gorgeous work on the pancetta and bacon. I wanted to lick my screen!! I’m not sure about the steps in your carbonara recipe, but whisking the cheese with the eggs first helps to create a ‘sauce base’ to toss the pasta in. I also like to add the drippings from the pan-fried bacon/pancetta for added….erm, flavor 😉

    • Mardi@eatlivetravelwrite February 17, 2011 at 05:41 #

      Danielle, yes, next time I will add the cheese to the egg whites (actually the whole egg if we are not having company since the yolk is really about just the presentation) and see if that incorporates better. Still, the taste was out of this world!

  32. Joel MacCharles February 17, 2011 at 06:50 #

    Mardi, your results look awesome – love that you did different variations on the same theme – hadn’t thought of unrolled pancetta but our belly is still curing so I thin you may have inspired the next part of our process. 🙂

    • Mardi@eatlivetravelwrite February 18, 2011 at 08:45 #

      The unrolled will be ready earlier which is why we did some of both – I had a deadline to meet!

  33. Jen @ My Kitchen Addiction February 17, 2011 at 14:46 #

    Wow… It looks absolutely perfect! I really should give this a try sometime… We just eat so little meat that I hadn’t really been inspired before. Looking at your bacon and pancetta is changing my mind, though.

    • Mardi@eatlivetravelwrite February 18, 2011 at 08:45 #

      The beauty of this is that you can make a tiny amount – it was literally enough bacon for one breakfast for 2, the pasta and a few other snacks…

  34. Kelly @ Evil Shenanigans February 17, 2011 at 17:52 #

    One word … yum! Looks amazing, tasty, and so utterly amazing!

  35. Jessica February 17, 2011 at 20:48 #

    Thanks for sharing this! I was hoping you had some step by step instructions on how to exactly prep and cure bacon? I am a newbie in the kitchen but boy do we love our bacon. We would LOVE to make our own! Do we need to own a curer? We have a smoker…not sure if that would work? I would love some info on this…you guys are so talented, again thanks for sharing with the rest of us!

    • Mardi@eatlivetravelwrite February 18, 2011 at 08:44 #

      The instructions are in Michael Ruhlman’s Charcuterie book or you can find information on Mrs Wheelbarrow’s Charcutepalooza site (linked to in post). But you definitely do not need a “curer”…

  36. cat February 17, 2011 at 22:18 #

    is it to soon to start making requests for meals when we get together in london? cause this is now at the top of the list . . .

    • Mr. Neil February 18, 2011 at 05:22 #

      Err, the bacon is finsihed already. 🙂

      But I SUPPOSE we can be convinced to do more. (Peameal bacon starting this weekend!)

  37. Jackie February 18, 2011 at 14:39 #

    That carbonara is the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen. OH MY GOODNESS. And yes, nix the cream, just go for the egg!

    You’re making me want to cure my own pancetta now… I’m going to do it, I am! And then I’m going to make this carbonara dish and die a very happy lady…

    Jax x

  38. Annapet February 23, 2011 at 14:48 #

    This was the first Charcutepalooza February Challenge I read and I was probably way too excited to spread the word and I left without a comment!

    I’m glad I’m revisiting now that I’m on “E” blogs! Beautifully done, Mardi! I shall try cream-less carbonara! Thanks for sharing!

  39. Paula March 27, 2011 at 20:40 #

    I just picked up some pancetta today and because of a tweet requesting a good carbonara recipe, Mardi was sweet enough to send me here. I’ve never seen carbonara without the *cream* sauce so this is definitely interesting. I hope the pancetta I bought is as good as what yours was Mardi (but I doubt it will be) In any case, I’m going to use the recipe you linked to and being the chicken I am, going to mix the entire egg with the cheese as you noted in one of the comments above. Thanks for the link and a great post! Appreciate all you share with your readers.

  40. The Cilantropist June 18, 2011 at 21:46 #

    Just came across this while ‘stumbling’ and you reminded me I want to try making bacon. Since you say it is ridiculously easy, I suppose it is time I give it a try! I am regretting I did not get involved in charcutepalooza, it seems like a blast! 🙂


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