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Vegetarian Substitutes for Pancetta & Chorizo

Asked by vodcaz. Answered on 9th September 2012

Full question

Hi Team Nigella! I have become a vegetarian and there are only two things I miss now that I only cook vegetarian food - chorizo and pancetta. I used to love pancetta in carbonara, and chorizo in peperonata, in a ramekin and baked in the oven with an egg. What spices or other flavourings could be used to bring as much of the flavour as possible that these two meat products used to provide? Thanks! Carolyn.

Our answer

With pancetta, which is a form of bacon, it is difficult to suggest a direct replacement. The flavour it adds to dishes is mainly a salty, slightly savoury edge and in a cabonara it also provides some crunchy texture contrast to the silkily sauced spaghetti. The easiest route would be to boost the amount of cheese used in the dish - you may need to find a vegetarian alternative to Parmesan as Parmesan is traditionally made with animal rennet. The extra cheese will add some saltiness and "umami" savoriness to the sauce. Sometimes fennel and nutmeg are used in the curing mixture for pancetta and in some more robust dishes you could add a little of both of these, but in a cabonara they would be overpowering.

Spanish chorizo's quite distinctive flavouring comes from pimenton - dried, smoked red peppers. Pimenton (sometimes labelled as Spanish paprika) is available in some supermarkets and you can also buy it on-line. Pimenton comes in mild (dolce) and hot (picante) form so check you are buying the type that you would prefer. It is easy to add to dishes such as peperonata and paella. Add it when you are frying onions or vegetables, so that the spice is able to flavour the cooking oil and permeate through the dish.

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