The Food Network really knows how to sell a magazine: make it all about BACON, and then have it reach newstands and grocery stores at the end of February, when we’re all sick of winter and dying for something more exciting than snow and ice, and therefore are extremely vulnerable to the power of suggestion.
It turns out my purchase of this magazine coincided with my planned purchase of a chunk of pancetta for my latest Test Kitchen lesson: Hearty Tuscan Bean Stew. It also turns out there were a couple of pancetta recipes in the Bacon magazine, because pancetta is often called Italian bacon. That’s not entirely accurate; there are a couple of important differences between the two. Bacon is smoked, pancetta is not. Bacon is often sweetened, pancetta is not. Pancetta is salt-cured pork belly, usually seasoned with black pepper, other spices, sometimes garlic.
It can be found rolled, as a flat slab, or in very thin slices from the roll. When you cook it up, it smells and tastes much like bacon, but not quite as smoky. Render the fatty bits, and you have some fabulously spiced cooking fat, that’s just begging you to saute some vegetables in it.
That’s what happens in the bean stew. There is only 6 ounces of diced pancetta in the pot, but it delivers a powerful meaty flavor to the stew. It’s almost like you simmered the beans with a ham bone all day.
Except you didn’t have to cook and eat a ham to do it.
These are Haricots Verts with Pancetta. Well, they are actually the thinnest green beans I could find, as haricots verts are not exactly a common sight in my grocery store.
Check out the ingredients. I love recipes that manage to coax giant flavor out of just a few ingredients. These beans owe all their mighty goodness to pancetta and garlic, and the panko breadcrumbs that soak up all that pancetta-y, garlicky fat and coat the green beans with it for us to enjoy.
Of course, just in time for maple sugaring season, here are Pancetta Pops. They are simple to make: on a parchment-lined cookie sheet, place 4 thin slices of pancetta, press another baking sheet on top, and bake at 350 deg.F until they are golden and crisp. (I actually ended up removing the top cookie sheet once I knew the pancetta would stay flat, to give the pancetta a chance to get that golden color.) Remove from the oven, and very gently place on paper towels to soak up any grease. Then pour 1 1/4 cups maple syrup into a medium saucepan and heat over medium heat until it reaches 270 deg. F. Use your thermometer! And remember this is really hot, and rather dangerous stuff, so don’t be trying to taste it until you’re sure it’s cooled. Carefully lay the pancetta on another parchment-lined cookie sheet, lay a lollipop stick on top of each slice, and then spoon the hot maple syrup over the pancetta. If you are particular about them being round, you will need 3-inch lollipop molds, but I am not that particular.
The method the magazine described for making these took twice as long as they said it would, 30 minutes instead of 15. I can forgive that because these are absolutely amazing. Your dentist will not think so, however. These are definitely not candy you should be chewing. Real tooth-stickers they are. So let the pieces that break off dissolve slowly in your mouth, and relish the whole lingering sweet, salty, savory experience. My pops are much darker than the ones in the magazine, I’m sure because my maple syrup is Grade B, a darker grade than Grade A, which is what is more commonly found in stores. (For more about maple syrup, click over to Tap Into Maple Syrup!)
I had maple candy leftover, and once maple syrup has been boiled down to hard candy stage, there is really only one thing to do if you don’t want a giant block of hard maple candy stuck in your saucepan. These drizzles are concentrated maple sweetness in a hard candy form, but they are delicate and lacy, great garnishes for desserts, if they are around long enough.
That’s it for now. Have some fun with pancetta. Spring has to get here sooner or later, and with spring will come all sorts of lovely fresh green things to look at and eat. Let’s all cross our fingers. I’ll see you back here soon on the Road.