Cooks are often confused when they are instructed to use specific Italian meat products. Here is an explanation of a few basics that every good Italian home has on hand.
- Pancetta--This is the same cut of pork as bacon. It is cured in the same manner as prosciutto, but aged for less time. It is leaner than bacon and usually unsmoked. Unlike bacon it is usually formed into a round, sausage like roll. When cut the pieces will be round. You must cook pancetta before eating.
In some parts of the United States it has been difficult to find pancetta. If you cannot find pancetta, you can substitute bacon. Do not use smoked bacon. This will change the flavor of your dish.
- Prosciutto Crudo--Known simply as prosciutto in the United States. This is an air and salt cured ham, aged for one year. For many years the US did not allow prosciutto to be imported from Italy. Arguments are common among Italian foodies as to which region has the best prosciutto. Areas such as Parma, Friuli-Venezia Giulia, and San Daniele are considered to have the best prosciutto in Italy. There are US versions available, as well as versions from Canada and Germany. It should not be too salty. It is not a US country style ham.
The word "prosciutto" actually means "ham." In Italy you need to specify what type of prosciutto you want. Prosciutto cotto is cooked ham, closest to what Americans think of as ham. It is brined with clove, allspice, sugar and pepper and then slow cooked. It is eaten in sandwiches or as a heated and served as a main dish.
- Mortadella--At first sight mortadella resembles American bologna. It is in fact the original bologna, and the most famous sausage in cooking. It was created in the 14th century in Bologna, Italy. It has a pillowy texture and has small squares of fat distributed throughout the sausage. There may be whole pistachios or pepper corns embedded in the meat. During the Christmas season a limited edition mortadella with black truffels may be found.
It can be eaten in a sandwich or used in cooking. Mortadella when cut into cubes is great when included in a frittata.