When an expatriate wants bacon, she must approach a deli clerk who seems to have a willing look about her. The only thing in Italy that’s going to work is pancetta affumicata, but not just any pancetta affumicata. It has to be flat and not rolled. It has to be a bit fatty and not lean. It has to be sliced a bit thick instead of the whisper thin slice they usually make. Not every deli clerk wants to listen, let alone comply.
I am sold on the smoked pancetta at my Eurospin ever since I made coucroute garni in October. I boiled a whole one in place of smoked ham hocks and it was absolutely delicious, so when I thought I’d like to make shrimps grilled in bacon, that’s where I went.
One rule of getting what you want is not to ask for anything strange when there is a real press of business at the counter. I walked in and saw the deli empty. As soon as the clerk came along I asked her to see the pancetta affumicata that they had that day, explaining that I needed a specific type. As she brought them out to me, another woman came along and stood beside me. I checked the pancettas over and picked one.
I started to explain how thick I needed the slices to be, and another woman joined us. The deli clerk made a couple of experimental cuts, and two more women came along.
I chose a thickness that was a bit thicker than regular bacon but would, I thought, be acceptable, and she went to a slicer to cut 200 grams of it for me.
“What, please, are you going to do with that?” asked the first woman who came along.
“I am going to grill shrimps in it,” I responded.
“How?” she continued.
“Wait, don’t answer until I’m done,” said the deli clerk as the other women edged in closer.
When we were at last all at our leisure, I started to explain wrapping the shrimps, broiling the shrimps, and how I would eat them variously as a canapè/antipasto, a main course or a meal salad. Various breaths were sucked in as Umbrians contemplated eating smoky things and decided it sounded pretty good.
Smoke flavored foods are not as popular here as they are in the northern Alpine parts of Italy. There are some supermarkets that don’t carry any smoked foods other than a shrink-wrapped piece of speck or grilling cheese. But somehow, the idea of applying a bit of it to a shrimp and dazzling your family appealed that day, and everybody appeared to be buying a bit of pancetta affumicata. It was only two steps to the right to the fish counter.
It was good. I hoped they liked it too, but you can’t tell. Unusual flavors are sometimes hard to love. Curiosity and a willingness to try are not Umbrian hallmarks, but that was a gutsy crowd. The salad was great. Promise. Easy and great.
Weap the shrimps in smoky bacon and broil one side at a time until just golden, so as not to overcook the shrimps. Arrange on leaves and add a lemony vinaigrette. Diet food ought always to be this good.