The Weekend Gourmet: Pancetta? Yes, please! F

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Pancetta? Yes, please!

Yeah...pancetta pretty much makes just about anything taste that much better!! If you've never tried pancetta, why not give it a try in today's amazing meatball recipe from Food Network chef Giada De Laurentiis. You may be asking yourself, "What the heck IS this pancetta stuff, Wendy?" Pancetta is basically Italian bacon that's been cured with salt and pepper and a few other spices. Unlike American bacon, however, pancetta is NOT smoked. Luckily, you can buy pancetta in the deli department at most large grocery stores. If you can't get your hands on pancetta, you can just sub in bacon. The taste will be a bit different, but still delicious!

Giada's meatballs are a little bit different from the typical meatballs that I've seen. They're made from lean ground turkey and are flavored with crisped pancetta and chopped sun-dried tomatoes. I've made this recipe several times to rave reviews, but haven't made it lately. I decided it was time to rectify that situation last night! The meatballs are cooked in a simple homemade tomato-basil sauce and tossed with cooked spaghetti. The best part? It tastes like you spent hours in the kitchen, but the entire meal takes about an hour from start to finish.

Turkey Meatballs with Pancetta and Sun-Dried Tomatoes
adapted from Giada De Laurentiis: Everyday Pasta

Meatball Ingredients:
  • 3 tbs. olive oil
  • 2 ounces pancetta, chopped
  • 1/2 onion, diced (recipe calls for yellow, but all I had on hand was red)
  • 1 lb. ground turkey
  • 1/2 cup grated Romano cheese
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley (Italian flat leaf is best, but I only had curly)
  • 1/4 cup seasoned bread crumbs
  • 1/4 cup chopped sun-dried tomatoes
  • 2 eggs
  • Sea salt and fresh ground pepper to taste

Sauce Ingredients:
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 28-ounce can whole tomatoes, drained and cut into pieces (San Marzano are best if you can find them!)
  • 2 large garlic cloves, finely diced (I use a microplane and shred them!)
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
  • 1/3 cup chopped basil 
  • Sea salt and fresh ground pepper to taste
Step 1:  Preheat oven to 400. Heat olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add the chopped pancetta and cook for two or three minutes. Add the chopped onion and cook until the pancetta is crisp and the onions are nicely browned. This should take about five more minutes. Let cool off the burner. 

Step 2:  Put the turkey, cheese, parsley, bread crumbs, sun-dried tomatoes, eggs, salt, and pepper in a large mixing bowl. Add the cooled pancetta-onion mixture and gently mix until everything is just combined. I find that clean hands are the perfect tool for this!

Step 3:  Roll the mixture into 2-inch meatballs and place on a greased baking pan. Bake for 25-30 minutes, until the meatballs are nicely browned. For reference, I ended up with 14 meatballs last night. 

Step 4:  Bring salted water to boil in a large pan pot. Add a package of spaghetti or linguini and cook until it's al dente. This will take approximately 10 minutes. When cooked, drain the pasta and reserve 1/2 cup of the pasta cooking water.

Step 5: While the past and meatballs are doing their thing, make the sauce. Put the olive oil in a saucepan over medium heat. Add the diced tomatoes, garlic cloves, parsley, salt, pepper, and four finely cut basil leaves. Stir to combine and let it cook/reduce for 15-20 minutes.

Step 6:  Add the spaghetti and cooked meatballs to the sauce. Toss gently to coat. Add some of the reserved pasta water if it looks like you need a bit more moisture...I added about 1/4 cup last night. Just before you're ready to serve, dust with parmesan reggiano and sprinkle three more torn basil leaves on top.

I love these meatballs because every bite is a new flavor sensation. Sometimes you taste the sweet-tart sun-dried tomatoes, sometimes the pancetta flavor is more pronounced...but every bite is delicious! Since the meatballs are the star of this show, I kept the sides simple. I served this dish with salad and a simple garlic bread. I hope you'll give these meatballs a try...they're truly exceptional! I'm already looking forward to having the leftovers for dinner tonight...mmmm...


  1. Looks delish--I love pancetta, too. Great photos as well!

  2. Thanks so much...I'm trying to work on the quality of my pictures because I'm blown away by how good the pictures are on so many food blogs!

  3. Wendy, these look great! I love meatballs, but have to admit that I've never really made a good one. These will definitely go high on my "must try" list! Nicely done!

  4. You really can't go wrong with bacon/pancetta/prosciutto/guanciale...they're all on my favorites list!

  5. @Karen - I tried guanciale for the first time last year. A local artisan pizza place featured it on a pizza special. So good!

  6. @Kim: Give these a try and let me know what you think! Before finding this recipe, I hadn't found a meatball recipe that I liked...I always just made bolognese!


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