Considered Italy’s version of bacon, pancetta is made from pork belly, peppered, rolled, tied and hung to cure. It’s most often used as a cooking ingredient to add flavor, as in this Celery and Pancetta Salad that Otto Pizzeria in New York City has served for years.
I like to cure meats in house and create antipasti and salads with ingredients that pair well with them. Vegetables about the same size as the pieces of meat work well. When pairing ingredients, make sure they have a similar size, bite and mouthfeel. (The same goes for pasta — the vegetable should be the same size as the noodle.) Thus, the pancetta and celery in this recipe are both diced and slivered, no more than ¼-inch thick.
Celery root, also referred to as celeriac or knob celery, is a variety cultivated for its edible shoots and roots. While it’s not the farmers market’s most beautiful offering, this bulbous root vegetable is often underappreciated for its distinctive, parsley-like flavor. Raw celery root would dominate a salad, so pair it with equally strong vegetables and fruits such as apples, beets or carrots if you’re avoiding meat.
I chose to use celery with pancetta because it’s something that everyone has in the back of their crisper drawer. Go look; I’m sure you have it on hand.
The late Marcella Hazan, one of my culinary heroes, and I always agreed that the best way to allow celery to cut loose is to throw it in a bath with salty, spicy, cured pancetta.
When picking celery root from the shelves, choose one that is firm and relatively heavy for its size. As when buying potatoes, avoid those with many rootlets and soft spots. Once refrigerated, celery root can be kept for up to a week when sealed properly. Although I prefer it grated and tossed raw in salads, cooked celery root is an excellent addition to soups, stews and warm side dishes.