Nothing makes a pizza more Italian than authentic Italian meats. Since tomatoes and mozzarella are a given, it’s meat pizza toppings like pancetta and prosciutto that can really boost the flavor of an Italian-style pizza.
Not long ago, it wasn’t that easy to find these products. But these days, many grocery stores like Fresh and Easy and Trader Joe’s carry them. So you can make a delicious Italian pizza right at home.
Pancetta, which is often referred to as Italian bacon, is pork belly that has been spiced, salt-cured, and dried for several months. But unlike American bacon, it’s not smoked. In Italy, it’s often rolled and then thinly sliced. In the United States and Britain, it’s often sold diced.
Because pancetta is salty, it’s especially delicious when combined with sweet pizza toppings. Try it with ripe pear or butternut squash.
Prosciutto is uncooked Italian ham. It’s also cured with salt and aged. Some prosciutto has the Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) which dictates how it is produced and what ingredients can be used.
The most famous is the Prosciutto di Parma. The pigs here are fed whey leftover from making Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, which gives the prosciutto a slightly nutty flavor. If you travel around Italy, you’ll notice that each region’s prosciutto has a distinctive taste.
Usually, a pork leg is covered with sea salt and left to cure for a couple of months in a cool place. After that, it’s washed and left to dry. Once it’s dry, it’s hung for up to two years in a well-ventilated place.
In Italy, it’s called prosciutto crudo or “raw ham” because it’s not cooked. It’s often eaten as an appetizer with melon, breadsticks, asparagus, or fresh mozzarella. Or used in pasta dishes with peas and a cream sauce. Saltimbocca, which is veal topped with prosciutto, sage, and cheese, is one of Rome’s best-loved dishes.
Prosciutto is one of the pizza toppings on a Pizza Capricciosa, which also has mushrooms, artichokes, and olives. It’s also excellent with nutty cheeses like Fontina and Gruyere.
Less well known outside Italy, guanciale is unsmoked Italian bacon made from pork jowls or cheeks. To make it, the pork is rinsed in wine, seasoned and left to marinate for over a month. Like prosciutto, it’s left to dry, but unlike prosciutto, it’s meant to be cooked.
There aren’t many places outside of Rome that sell guanciale, but if you have a good Italian butcher, you can ask. You can also order it online. If you have guanciale, render it in a pan before using it as a pizza topping, and the save the drippings and make something fabulous with them. It’s extremely high in fat, but since even a small amount adds a tremendous amount of flavor, it won’t bust your diet completely.
You can also make your own if you have access to pork jowls and are willing to wait three weeks. Or you can check out the pizzas at BC Pizza. You won’t be disappointed!
Its rich, pork flavor is the cornerstone of dishes like Spaghetti alla Carbonara and Bucatini all’Amatriciana, though pancetta is often substituted.