A Summer Salad for Meat Lovers (it has something to do with bacon)

A Summer Salad for Meat Lovers (it has something to do with bacon)

BLT Salad with Bacon Ends and Avocado

A big refreshing bowl of salad is a great dinner in the heat of summer. Too veggie, you say? No worries, there is a happy meaty answer to that: Bacon ends. Yep, contemplate that. I did my own contemplating when I spied a bag of bacon ends for the first time at the farmers market and had to examine them. The bag was hefty, lumpy, and thick with triangular hunks of bacon jumbled in vacuum-packed togetherness. It was bacon indeed, but not the typical neatly fanned slices I usually buy in the deli department. After asking a few questions, I learned that when those tidy pre-sliced bacon packages are created, all of the irregular hunks and ends are discarded in order to produce supermarket-packaged perfection. I knew I was onto something revelatory, so I snagged a package. Now I am here to tell you that you want those ends. They are veritable chunks of heaven for bacon lovers, evoking salty pork-induced delirium.

I find the best way to cook bacon ends is in the oven or on a grill. While the ends cook, their fat renders, leaving behind crispy chunks of meaty bacon you can sink your teeth into. Honestly, they are addictively good. The danger is gobbling them all up in one go (not recommendable, by the way – just saying). So try to exert some restraint (after taste testing a few pieces, of course, as any cook should), and add them to salads, pasta, eggs – goodness, wherever you want your bacon. I like the salad option, as the fresh vegetables and leafy lettuce nicely balance out the hunks of salty meat. I call it a deconstructed BLT in a bowl and toss it with homemade croutons, brushed with the rendered bacon fat and toasted on the grill. Got your attention, right?

As for finding these ends, ask your butcher or the nice people in your supermarket’s meat department if they have a stash. You can be sure they know exactly what you are asking about – they just might not want to share.

BLT Salad with Bacon Ends and Avocado

Serves 4 as a main course salad

Prep Time: 10 minutes
Grilling Time: 30 minutes

1 1/2 to 2 pounds bacon ends, excess fat trimmed, cut into 1 inch cubes
2 cups coarsely torn bite-size pieces of country or sourdough bread

Dressing:
3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 garlic clove, minced
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil

Salad:
1 large head lettuce, leaves washed and torn into bite-size pieces
4 small vine ripened tomatoes, cut into wedges
Corn kernels cut from one ear of corn
1 large Hass avocado, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
1/2 small red onion, thinly sliced

1. Prepare the grill for indirect medium heat (about 400°F for a gas grill). Trim any excess fat from the bacon ends. Cut the ends into 1 inch chunks and arrange  on a grill rack (or grate) set over a grill pan to capture the rendered fat. Grill until the fat is rendered and the ends are crispy golden, about 25 minutes. (You can do this in the oven with a broiler pan, if you like.) Transfer the ends to a plate.
2. Toss the bread in the rendered fat. Spread the bread on a grill pan or the grates and grill until golden and crisp, turning as needed, 3 to 4 minutes. Set aside.
3. Make the dressing: Whisk the vinegar, garlic, salt, and pepper in a small bowl. Add the oil in a steady stream, whisking constantly to emulsify.
4. Place the salad ingredients in a large bowl. Add the bacon, half of the croutons and dressing to your taste and toss to combine. Garnish with the remaining croutons and serve with any remaining dressing.

BLT Salad with Avocado and Grilled Croutons

BLT salad view

Bacon-ends: contemplate that. I spied a bag of bacon ends at the farmers market and had to examine. The bag was hefty, lumpy, and thick with triangular hunks of bacon mounded in vacuum packed togetherness. Bacon indeed, but not the typical neatly fanned skinny slices. You see, when those tidy OCD sliced packages are created, all irregular knobs and ends are discarded in order to produce supermarket packaged perfection. I am here to tell you that you want those ends. They are veritable chunks of heaven for bacon lovers, evoking food craving delirium. Of course I bought them.

BLT saladBLT Salad with Bacon Ends, Avocado and Croutons
Serves 4 as a main course salad

1 1/2 to 2 pounds bacon ends, excess fat trimmed, cut into 1-inch cubes
2 cups coarsely torn bite-size pieces of levain or ciabbata bread
Salt

Dressing:
3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 garlic clove, minced
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil

Salad:
1 large head red leaf lettuce, leaves washed and torn into bite-size pieces
4 small vine ripened tomatoes, cut into wedges
Corn kernels cut from one ear of corn
1 large hass avocado, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1/2 small red onion, thinly sliced

1. Prepare the grill for indirect medium heat (about 400°F for a gas grill). Trim any excess fat from the bacon ends. Cut the ends into 1-inch chunks and arrange  on a grill rack (or grate) set over a grill pan to capture the rendered fat. Grill until the fat is rendered and the ends are crispy golden, about 25 minutes. (You can do this in the oven with a broiler pan, if you like.) Transfer the ends to a plate.
2. Toss the bread in the rendered fat and lightly season with salt. Spread the bread on a grill pan or the grates and grill until golden and crisp, turning as needed. Set aside.
3. Make the dressing: Whisk the vinegar, garlic, salt, and pepper in a small bowl. Add the oil in a steady stream, whisking constantly to emulsify.
4. Place the salad ingredients in a large bowl. Add half of the dressing and toss to coat. Scatter the bacon and croutons over the salad and drizzle with additional dressing to taste. Serve immediately.

Asparagus Carbonara

Asparagus Carbonara TasteFood

Just grill it – in a skillet. My favorite cooking vessel is my cast iron skillet. Not only is it versatile in the kitchen, it’s handy on the grill. When it’s too hot to cook in the kitchen, I move outdoors and use my grill as an oven and a stovetop, and my cast iron skillet becomes a grill pan. Last night I made a simple carbonara pasta dish on the grill. Carbonara is the Italian version of chicken soup – a supremely comforting meal for all ages – consisting of pasta and bacon whisked with a slick sauce of eggs and cheese. It’s a family favorite year round, which I like to lighten up with seasonal vegetables.

If you use a gas grill, prepare the grill for direct cooking over medium heat. The pasta may be boiled on the grill in a grill-proof pot (most are), and the bacon and asparagus may be prepared in a cast iron skillet. Alternatively, use your stove!

Asparagus Carbonara
Serves 4

The heat from the pasta will cook the eggs when mixing. Be sure to do this away from the direct heat to prevent the eggs from scrambling.

8 ounces thick-cut bacon, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
2 large eggs
1 cup finely grated Pecorino Romano cheese, plus more for sprinkling
1 pound orecchiette

3/4 pound thin asparagus, cut into 1-inch pieces
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon salt (optional)
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes, or to taste
Freshly ground black pepper

1. Cook the bacon in batches in a large skillet (or on a griddle) over medium heat until the fat renders and the bacon is crispy. Transfer the bacon to a plate lined with a paper towel. When cool enough to handle, break into small pieces. Pour off all but 2 tablespoons fat from the skillet.
2. Whisk the eggs and cheese in a bowl until smooth; set aside.
3. Bring a large pot of salted water to a rolling boil. Add the orecchiette and cook until al dente; drain.
4. While the pasta is cooking, add the asparagus, garlic, salt, and red pepper flakes to the skillet. Saute over medium heat until the asparagus are bright and crisp-tender, 2 to 3 minutes. Add the orecchiette and stir to combine. Remove the pan from the heat and quickly add the eggs and cheese, stirring constantly to coat the pasta and to prevent the eggs from cooking. Add the bacon to the skillet and stir once more.
5. Serve immediately garnished with black pepper and grated cheese.

What’s for dinner: Spaghetti alla Carbonara with Sweet Peas

carbonara tastefood

There is nothing more comforting than a bowl of pasta carbonara, the Roman answer to comfort food, with an egg-rich creamy cheesy sauce studded with crispy bacon and, in this recipe, sweet peas. Peas add freshness and a sweet counterpoint to the salty bacon, while providing the vegetable component to call this a complete meal in a bowl. A sating and soothing meal at that – pasta carbonara for the belly and soul.

Spaghetti Carbonara with Sweet Peas

The heat from the pasta will help to cook the eggs when combining. Be sure to do this away from the direct stove heat to prevent the eggs from scrambling.

Serves 4

1 pound spaghetti or bucatini
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
6 ounces thick-cut bacon, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
2 large eggs
1 cup finely grated Pecorino Romano cheese, plus more for sprinkling
1 cup (or more if desired) frozen sweet peas, thawed
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes, or to taste

Bring a large pot of salted water to a rolling boil. Add the spaghetti and cook until al dente. Drain.
While the pasta is cooking, heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the bacon, stirring to separate the pieces, and cook until the fat is rendered and the bacon is golden brown, 4 to 5 minutes. Transfer the bacon with a slotted spoon to a plate lined with a paper towel.
While the bacon is cooking, whisk the eggs and cheese in a bowl until smooth; set aside.
Drain off all but 2 tablespoons fat from the pan. Add the peas, garlic, and red pepper flakes and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the pasta and stir to coat the noodles. Remove the pan from the heat and quickly add the eggs and cheese, stirring constantly to coat the pasta and to prevent the eggs from cooking. Return the bacon to the pan and stir once more. Serve immediately with extra cheese for sprinkling.

Simple Suppers: Pasta with Bacon and Arugula

bacon arugula pasta tastefood

Friday Night Pasta – Spaghetti, Bacon, Arugula, Cheese

The busier I get, the more I crave simplicity. And the busier I get, the more elusive simplicity becomes. It’s time to take charge. While I might not be able to simplify my calendar or clear my work load with the snap of my fingers, and how I  wish I could simplify my clothes closet and garage storage with a Bewitching wiggle of my nose  – I can at least simplify my dinner. In fact, simple dinners are often the best. Minimal, fresh and light, composed in less than 30 minutes, these dinners do not skimp on flavor, and offer require double portions, because they taste so good. Many Italian recipes fall into this category. This recipe takes inspiration from Cacio e Pepe, the humble Roman dish consisting of pasta, olive oil, cheese and cracked pepper, glistening with reserved pasta water. Of course, since I can at best call myself a sometimes-simplifier, I couldn’t resist throwing in a few more ingredients for good measure. No one will argue with bacon, is my bet.

Spaghetti with Bacon and Arugula

I used spaghetti, because that’s what I had on hand. Bucatini or gemelli would work well, too. Serves 4.

8 ounces thick cut bacon, cut into 3/4-inch pieces
1/2 cup breadcrumbs or Panko (Japanese breadcrumbs)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup plus 1/2 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 cup finely grated Pecorino Romano cheese
1 pound spaghetti
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon crushed red chili flakes
2 to 3 cups fresh arugula

Heat a skillet over medium-high heat. Add the bacon and fry until crisp and golden. Transfer to a plate lined with a paper towel. Pour off all but 1 tablespoon bacon fat from the skillet. Add the breadcrumbs, salt and black pepper. Toast over medium heat until golden, about 1 minute. Transfer to a bowl to cool, then add 1/4 cup Parmigiano and stir to blend.
Bring a large pot of salted water to a rolling boil. Cook the pasta 1 minute less than package instructions for al dente. Scoop out and reserve 1 cup cooking water and drain the pasta.
Heat the oil in a deep skillet over medium heat. Add the garlic and chili flakes and saute until aromatic, about 30 seconds. Add 1/2 cup reserved water, the pasta, 1/2 cup Parmesan and the Pecorino to the pan, stirring and tossing constantly to melt the cheese and evenly coat the pasta. (If too thick, add additional water a little at a time to reach desired consistency). Remove from heat. Add the bacon, half of the breadcrumbs, and the arugula; toss to warm through. Serve immediately with remaining breadcrumbs sprinkled over the pasta.

Carbonara

carbonara tastefood

~ Spaghetti Carbonara with Sweet Peas ~

If there is an Italian equivalent to the classic Jewish chicken soup, then I think it would be Pasta Carbonara. You can’t get more comforting than a deep bowl of noodles slicked with an egg-rich cheesy sauce redolent of bacon. The optional addition of sweet peas to carbonara is essential in my opinion. Peas add freshness and a sweet counterpoint to the salty bacon, while providing the vegetable component to call this a complete meal in a bowl. A sating and soothing meal at that – pasta carbonara for the belly and soul.

Spaghetti Carbonara with Sweet Peas

The heat from the pasta will help to cook the eggs when combining. Be sure to do this away from the direct stove heat to prevent the eggs from scrambling.

1 pound spaghetti or bucatini

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
6 ounces thick-cut bacon, cut in 1/2-inch pieces
2 large eggs
1 cup Pecorino Romano cheese, plus more for sprinkling
1 cup (or more if desired) frozen sweet peas, thawed
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes, or to taste

Bring a large pot of salted water to a rolling boil. Add the spaghetti and cook until al dente. Drain.
While the pasta is cooking, heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the bacon, stirring to separate the pieces, and cook until fat is rendered and bacon is golden brown, about 4 minutes. Transfer the bacon with a slotted spoon to a plate lined with a paper towel.
While the bacon is cooking, whisk the eggs and cheese in a bowl until smooth; set aside.
Drain off all but 2 tablespoons fat from the pan. Add the peas, garlic and red pepper flakes  and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the pasta and stir to coat the noodles. Remove the pan from heat and quickly add the eggs and cheese, stirring constantly to coat the pasta and to prevent the eggs from cooking. Return the bacon to the pan and stir once more. Serve immediately with extra cheese for sprinkling.

Pasta with Bacon and Brussels Sprouts

Bacon Brussel Sprout Pasta tf

Are you looking for ways to get your family to eat brussels sprouts? This recipe may do the trick – with a little help from bacon. Fresh yet hearty, full of healthy crucifers and dotted with crispy bacon, this simple dinner is perfect for an autumn weeknight.

Pasta with Bacon and Brussel Sprouts

Cauliflower or broccoli may be substituted for the brussels sprouts.

Serves 4.

1 pound orrechiette or conchiglie pasta

1/2 pound bacon, cut in 1/2-inch pieces
3/4 pound brussels sprouts, halved (quartered if large)
1 garlic clove, minced
1/2 cup chicken stock
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup finely grated parmesan cheese, plus extra for garnish

Bring a large pot of salted water to a rolling boil. Add the pasta and cook until al dente. Drain and transfer to a large bowl.
While the pasta is cooking, heat a skillet over medium heat. Add the bacon and cook until fat is rendered and bacon is golden. Remove with a slotted spoon and transfer to a plate lined with a paper towel. Discard all but 1 tablespoon bacon fat from skillet. Add the brussels sprouts and saute until they are crisp tender, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and saute until fragrant, about 30 seconds, then add the chicken stock. Continue to cook until the brussels sprouts are tender, 3 to 4 minutes. Add the cream and simmer until thickened to a sauce consistency, about 2 minutes. Stir in the salt and pepper and check for seasoning.
Add the brussels sprouts, bacon and cheese to the pasta and toss to combine. Serve with extra cheese on the side.