This recipe is a celebration of bacon. Not just any bacon, but a wedge of my own home-cured bacon: a wicked habit I developed after a year of making my own charcuterie courtesy of Charcutepalooza. Since then, I always have a stash of bacon on hand, portioned from a hefty slab I cure every few months.
Once again I found myself this week at the dinner hour when I hadn’t shopped and the refrigerator was bare. (How does this happen when I cook and write about food?) In this situation, an easy improvised pasta dinner is on the menu. Naturally, I reached for a hunk of bacon, cubed and fried it, rendering a slick of fat. Normally I would discard the fat and proceed from there, but since it was my own bacon, I wasn’t ready to part with it, preferring to celebrate it somehow, so I dumped a chopped sweet potato unearthed from the vegetable bin into the pan, frying the potato until glistening and tender. Not quite finished, I gave a few semi-wilted sage leaves a reprieve (I said my refrigerator was empty) and fried them until crisp. Now I was ready to discard the bacon fat, all but a tablespoon, which I used to sauté a little garlic and and a handful of peas just long enough to release the garlic’s aroma and brighten the peas. Then all of the ingredients, redolent with bacon, converged in a bowl with a wonderful pasta I discovered in my pantry, smuggled home from a long-ago trip to Italy. I call them adult spaghettio’s.
Pasta with Bacon, Peas and Sweet Potato
Orecchiette may be substituted for the anelletti pasta. Serves 4.
1 pound orecchiette
1 pound bacon, cut in 1/2-inch cubes
1 medium sweet potato, peeled, cut in 1/2 inch dice
1/4 cup sage leaves
1 large garlic clove, minced
1 cup shelled peas or defrosted frozen peas
1/2 teaspoon red chili flakes, or to taste
1/2 cup finely grated Parmigiano cheese, divided
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Bring a large pot of salted water to a rolling boil over high heat. Add pasta and cook until al dente. Drain. Transfer to a large bowl.
While the pasta is cooking, fry bacon in one layer in a large skillet over medium heat until golden brown and fat is rendered. Remove bacon with a slotted spoon to a plate lined with paper towels. Add sweet potato to the skillet and sauté in the bacon fat until tender but not too soft, 3 to 4 minutes. Transfer with slotted spoon to another plate lined with paper towels. Add sage leaves and fry until crisp, 1 to 2 minutes. Transfer with slotted spoon to a plate lined with paper towels. Drain off all but 1 tablespoon bacon fat. Add garlic, peas and chili flakes. Sauté until fragrant and peas brighten in color and are crisp tender, about 2 minutes for fresh peas. (If using frozen peas, sauté until heated through, 1 minute). Transfer peas to the bowl with the pasta. Add bacon, sweet potato, half of the cheese and black pepper. Toss to combine. Taste for seasoning. Serve warm, garnished with extra cheese and sage leaves.