One the best tasting and most popular non-traditional American bacon types is Italian Bacon (aka Pancetta). Italian bacon is another very versatile form of bacon that can be eaten from breakfast through dinner. Of all the international bacon types, Italian bacon is most similar to American bacon in that they are both sourced from the pork belly. Unlike traditional American bacon that is served in strips, Italian bacon is served in many different formats. For example, cubed Italian bacon is typically used in risotto or in any dish that is similar to American bacon use (scrambled eggs and Italian bacon, sautéed with mirepoix to start a pasta or soup, etc).
Italian bacon is also available very thinly sliced (think half the thickness of your average piece of American bacon). This form is usually served wrapped around vegetables or other meats before it is heated and served.
While Italian bacon and American bacon are both sourced from the pork belly, there is a vast difference in flavor. Italian bacon is not smoked, and is typically cured in a different blend of seasonings such as fennel, nutmeg and even pepper. The shapes are again very different. Italian bacon is cubed, or circular. Italian bacon can also be slab-like in shape, but it is paper thin and very different from American bacon in flavor.
Italian bacon can be sautéed, baked, fried, broiled and grilled. Because it has a rich source of fat being sourced from the pork belly, it does not need supplemental fats while cooking.
Common recipe ideas that include Italian bacon are:
Pasta Pancetta – a pasta dish that is creamy and served with peas
Fetuccine Pancetta – another pasta dish, with thicker noodles, served with peas and asparagus
Spaghetti alla Carbonara – a rich spaghetti served with eggs, parmesan and of course pancetta
Risotto – Pancetta with creamy rice and wild mushrooms
Less common meal ideas that are equally as delicious include:
Balsamic roasted Brussel sprouts with Pancetta and blue cheese
White bean and chard, pancetta pot pies
Brie, cranberry and Pancetta Phyllo dough bites
For dieters and health food enthusiasts, Italian bacon is not necessarily considered “healthy” due to its high fat to protein ratio in addition to its high sodium content. One good aspect, however, is that due to the rich seasonings and very thinly sliced nature (when not cubed) of Italian bacon, a little goes a long way and the portion sizes are typically quite small. When treated as an accent, Italian bacon is not incredibly unhealthy.
Does nitrate free bacon, Italian-style exist?
As far as nitrate free bacon that is Italian-style, this completely depends on the manufacturer of the bacon. There are absolutely nitrate free Italian bacon products available, but they may be difficult to find outside of an artisan butcher. Products that a nitrate free usually have clear labeling that says “nitrate free” or “no added nitrates or sodium nitrite” because there is a growing trend for suppliers to eliminate nitrites as a preservative in processed meats.