Any cook who has ever tasted pancetta’s unique flavor will assuredly go out of the way to find or create recipes that will showcase the salt and spices of cured, dried pork. Happily, pancetta lends itself to salads of many varieties. Some of the most favorite combinations include gently warmed goat cheese, pears, or dried fruit, as well as vegetables such as green beans or peas. Nearly any combination of greens, from baby radicchio to arugula, offers the perfect beginning for a pancetta salad that can be served on the side or instead as a main dish.
Cooks and noncooks alike are tempted to equate pancetta with bacon; both are cured, fatty pork, but bacon is smoked, while pancetta’s curing involves fennel and nutmeg. Once the meat is cured, it spends a period of time in the drying shed. Before it joins other foods at the dining table, it must be thinly sliced or cut into small cubes and fried. A small amount of the final product contributes rich flavor to pancetta salad.
Home cooks the world over have discovered that one delicious and healthy way to serve pancetta salad begins with a bed of mixed baby greens. Sautéed garlic and lightly fried pancetta joins crumbled, warmed goat cheese and a handful of dried cranberries or cherries. Oil flavored with porcini mushrooms as well as apple cider or another fruity vinegar dresses the salad to perfection.
For those who don’t care for goat cheese, a fruity salad composed of thinly sliced pear and peppery arugula creates a balanced foil to finely sliced pancetta. Unless consuming dairy is an issue, this salad finishes nicely with a very thin shaving or two of ricotta salata, which is dried and pressed ricotta suitable for grating. Many cooks blend a dressing with a drop or two of honey and fresh lemon juice together with Champagne vinegar.
A terrific and light summer pancetta salad perfect for dinner adds sun-warmed, garden-ripe tomatoes with green beans and pancetta. This recipe calls for sherry or other wine vinegar, extra-virgin, first cold-pressing olive oil, and honey. A grating of good-quality hard cheese adds flavor and color.
Another summer salad that features pancetta but offers a decidedly unique twist contains either fresh peas or peapods and finely minced fresh mint. Goat cheese adds subtle and creamy richness, and both capers and lemon zest lift the tastes with a zing. People who don’t eat dairy products can crumble a little extra-firm tofu, and the entire salad responds well to a simple dressing of good virgin olive oil, sea salt, and freshly cracked pepper.