The ANNOTICO Report
Rocky Mountain News
By Food Network Kitchens
May 25, 2005
Question: What is the difference between pancetta and
prosciutto? I know
they both are Italian hams, but are they interchangeable in recipes? -
Stephanie Reed, Smyrna, Del.
Answer: There's no harm in substituting pancetta and prosciutto
other. But as you're probably aware, prosciutto does come at a dear price,
and cooking with the best of it (prosciutto di Parma) seems a needless
extravagance unless specified in a recipe. If you do substitute, take note
that prosciutto is considerably saltier than pancetta and adjust
The difference between prosciutto and pancetta is the
ham and bacon, albeit ham and bacon of a particularly exalted variety.
Prosciutto, it's true, is Italian ham. In fact, prosciutto
is the Italian
word for ham. And like all ham, it's simply the rear leg of the pig, cured.
The prosciutto that most Americans associate with the
word is more properly
referred to as prosciutto crudo, or raw ham.
Though prosciutto crudo is made all over Italy, the best
of it comes from
Emilia-Romagna, in north-central Italy, near Parma. There prosciutto is
dry-cured with salt anywhere from 10 months to two years, using specially
Its production is an elaborate and strictly controlled
art, designed to
produce ham with a minimum of salt in a bid to preserve the natural
sweetness of the pork. The result is one of Italy's great contributions to
Lynn Rossetto Kasper puts it best when she describes the
taste as being
"like someone infused the flavors of nuts, cream, ripe fruit and meat
essence into a ham."
Such a glorious product should be treated with respect,
and tampered with as little as possible. Prosciutto dries out and goes bad
quickly. Be sure to use it within two days of purchase.
Simply put, pancetta is bacon-cured pork belly. But bacon
of a different
sort. Unlike American bacon, pancetta is unsmoked, and though it's crudo,
pancetta undergoes a special curing process that renders it safe to eat
raw, so it can be treated like ham.
Pancetta is everyday food in Italy. It turns up raw in
plates of antipasti and cooked in just about everything else: pasta sauces,
beans, soups. There's no limit to what it can do.
Do be aware, though, that if you go looking for Italian
pancetta in the
U.S., you're going to come up empty. Its importation is banned; all
pancetta sold here is domestically produced. Fortunately, much of it is
Send inquiries to Ask Food Network Kitchens via e-mail
or by writing Food Network, P.O. Box 1180, Radio City Station, New York, NY