What is pancetta?

Pancetta is Italian cured pork belly – the equivalent of streaky bacon. It has a deep, strong, slightly salty flavour, is fairly fatty, and comes either smoked or unsmoked.

You can buy pancetta either as straight rashers (which tend to be smoked), as round slices cut from a roll (which tend to be unsmoked), or diced. If you need diced pancetta, it's cheaper to buy rashers and cut them yourself, although the cubes won't be as thick if you do this.

How to prepare pancetta

Whether you buy your pancetta in rashers or cubed, it's ready to use.

How to cook pancetta

Fry (cubed, 5 mins; sliced, 2-3 mins each side). Add to pasta sauces, soups, stews, quiches, stuffing; serve with crusty bread and a selection of cold meats; use to top pizza.

How to store pancetta

Keep pancetta in the fridge, away from any other meat and food that will be eaten raw. Never exceed the consume-by date printed on the package. Open the original pack only when you're going to use it, and then keep the pancetta wrapped or in a sealed container.

Loose pancetta rashers should be tightly wrapped in greaseproof paper and kept in the fridge; they will last for up to three weeks. Loose diced pancetta should be kept in a sealed container.

Availability of pancetta

Year round.

Choose the best pancetta

Fresh pancetta should look pink and damp – avoid anything that's discoloured or dry. The fat should be white or creamy coloured, not yellow or greasy, and the rind should be thin and elastic. Avoid pancetta that is wet, slimy or smells unpleasant.

Alternatives to pancetta

Try bacon or ham.