My wonderful nephew, Stefan, dropped by for a visit last week just as I was about to grab a snack. I don’t usually make lunch because I’m a grazer during the day, so I rummaged through the refrigerator to see what my options were for feeding a lanky 6’3” wide receiver on the high school football team.
Pancetta, spring lettuce mix, tomatoes and a perfectly ripe avocado were the items that summoned. The combination reminded me of a BLT (bacon, lettuce and tomato) sandwich, but with a twist. Slices of bread from a sesame semolina loaf were the perfect bookends for this fresh version.
If you’re not familiar with pancetta, it’s time to give this very flavorful Italian bacon a try. It’s now available in the deli section of most grocery stores. ‘Pancia’ means belly, so pancetta is ‘little belly’. It differs from American bacon in that it is cut from the underbelly (and not the sides) and is less fatty (an added bonus!).
Pancetta is dry-cured and seasoned with salt, pepper and other spices. It is usually rolled into a tight cylinder and sliced very thinly. A little goes a long way so it’s commonly used as a flavoring for pasta, soups, and many more dishes. I like to use it to flavor my bean and lentil soups, and think of the pizzazz it would add to a dull chicken breast or a pork loin.
As an introduction to pancetta, try this sandwich I call the PLTA:
Pancetta, lettuce and tomato sandwich with avocado
Serves 4 (3 for Stefan and 1 for me!)
16 slices pancetta, about 4 ounces (don’t unroll slices)
spring lettuce mix
1 large tomato, sliced thinly
2 avocados, halved and sliced
8 slices sesame semolina bread or bread of your choice
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Place pancetta in a saucepan and fry until crisp. This will only take a couple of minutes because the pancetta is very thin so watch it closely!
Toast bread and spread each lightly with mayonnaise. Place 4 pieces of pancetta on each of four pieces of toast. Top with a slice of tomato, and about half of an avocado (sliced). Season lightly with salt and generously with freshly ground black pepper. Heap spring lettuce mix on top of each sandwich and top with remaining toasted bread slices. Serve immediately.
And that, my friends is a great alternative to the standard BLT! Stefan and I loved the contrast in texture of the paper-thin crispy pancetta, smooth and silky avocado, and the variety of the lettuce mix. And according to Stefan, it beats the lentil soup I made him try when he was about ten years old. Being from the old school of you-must-try-it-before-you-can-say-you-don’t-like-it, I insisted he try my lentil soup (which I thought was fabulous). Much to my dismay, it caused an allergic reaction in his mouth and throat, so that I ended up rushing him to the doctor’s office for a cortisone shot! That scare put this pushy tetka (aunt) in her place!
Now, about those big feet I keep tripping over …is it your attempt at pay back?!