While most of us have frozen steaks, chops, burgers, and other cuts of meat for future use, it’s a life-saver to have a stash of sliced pancetta in the coldbox too. Not just smoky bacon (which I also keep on hand), but specifically pancetta—the ingredient that makes the magic happen for dishes as diverse as the world’s greatest spaghetti carbonara (seriously, I am going to get that trademarked), roasted brussels sprouts, and even seared scallops.
Corrado’s, my local Italian supermercato, stocks these vacuum-packed cylinders of good Jersey-made pancetta. At home, I slice the rolls into 1/2-inch rounds and then stack each slice between layers of waxed paper before wrapping the whole bundle in foil to freeze. Each slice is about 2 oz. by weight, so when I need pancetta for a recipe, it’s automatically portioned.
The beauty of freezing slices of any fatty meat (pancetta, bacon, guanciale… aren’t pigs wonderful?) is that making a clean cut through the fat becomes 100 times easier when it’s not soft and slippery. All my lardons look professionally, identically sized, and I don’t have to worry about hacking through my finger as I try to secure the greasy pieces.
If you’ve been buying pancetta only for specific recipes, now’s the time to keep a little more on hand so you can try it on a regular basis. Its lush saltiness plays well with so many vegetables, but I decided to bring it out as a counterpoint to fennel’s signature sweetness in the recipe below.
Fennel Pancetta Hash
Prep time:15 minutes
Total time:1 hour
Makes 4 side-dish servings
- 4 small Yukon Gold potatoes, scrubbed and cut into 1 1/2-inch cubes
- 1 tablespoon kosher salt
- 1/2 cup diced pancetta (about two 1/2-inch-thick slices)
- 1 bulb fennel, sliced paper-thin
- 1/3-1/2 cup chicken stock
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- Sherry vinegar
Place the potatoes and salt in a large pot and add enough water to cover by at least 2 inches. Cover and bring to a boil over medium-high heat.
Uncover and cook the potatoes until tender, about 10 minutes. Drain the potatoes and reserve.
Meanwhile, cook the pancetta in a large saucepan or skillet over medium-low heat until the fat is rendered and the cubes are crispy, about 5-8 minutes.
Add the fennel and stir to combine, scraping the bottom of the pan to loosen the browned bits, then add 1/3 cup chicken stock and cover to braise the fennel.
Check after 10 minutes, adding more chicken stock if the liquid has already evaporated before the fennel is fully tender. When the fennel is ready, stir in the butter, then add a splash of sherry vinegar.