Adult Spaghettio’s: Anelletti with Bacon, Peas and Sweet Potato

Adult Spaghettio’s: Anelletti with Bacon, Peas and Sweet Potato

~ Anelletti, Bacon, Sweet Potato, Peas, Sage, Parmigiano ~

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.  Continue Reading Anelletti with bacon, Peas and Sweet Potato

Home-cured Bacon and a review of Alexian Pate

Home-cured Bacon and a review of Alexian Pate

~ Brined Pork Belly ~

It’s been over a year since I started to post homemade charcuterie on TasteFood. One of my favorite recipes – and easiest – is the home-cured pork belly, aka bacon, which I continue to do on a regular basis. I am here to say, that you – any of you – can do this too, and that once you try it, there will be no going back. Not only are the results positively swoon-worthy, the process is ridiculously simple. You only need to plan ahead.

Home-Cured Pork Belly

Five pounds sounds like a lot of meat, but the bacon is easy to freeze and a welcome gift for your bacon-loving friends. Recipe adapted from Saveur Magazine.

5 pounds pork belly with skin
1/3 cup kosher salt
1/4 cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons black peppercorns
3 bay leaves
2 garlic cloves, chopped

Rinse the pork and dry. Lay on a large sheet of parchment paper. Combine salt, sugar, peppercorns and bay leaves in a mortar or spice grinder. Coarsely pound or grind. Mix in the garlic. Smear the spices all over the pork. Transfer to a large resealable plastic bag, turning to distribute the spices. Place on a rimmed baking tray and refrigerate for 7 days, flipping the bag every second day.
After 7 days the pork should feel firm to the touch. (If not, refrigerate an additional day and check again). Remove the bacon from the bag and thoroughly rinse under cold water. Pat dry with paper towels.
Heat oven to 200 F. Place bacon in a rectangular baking pan and roast until the meat is brown and an instant read thermometer inserted in the center reads 150 F., about 3 hours.
Transfer the bacon to a cutting board. Slice off the skin with a long, thin knife. Cool to room temperature, then transfer to refrigerator. Cut in portions and wrap in plastic. Bacon will keep in refrigerator for up to 10 days or freeze for up to 3 months.

See? Easy to make. All that you need is time to plan ahead for a week of letting the meat brine in the refrigerator. Admittedly, we don’t always have time for such a project, and when a go-to specialty product comes across my radar for easy use, I am interested. So it felt a bit like Christmas when I recently received a box from Alexian Pate and Specialty Meats filled with an assortment of pates, rillette and terrines.  On the heels of a year of Charcutepalooza posts on TasteFood, it must have been evident that I love charcuterie. When Alexian reached out to me and asked if I would like to try a sample selection of their all-natural delicacies, it was hard for me to resist.

As most of you know, I rarely do product reviews. It’s not so much out of principle, but more that I rarely come across products which genuinely excite me. Call me picky, I prefer my products authentic and my ingredients to be fresh and natural – especially when it comes to meat. So, Alexian caught my attention. Their charcuterie are all-natural, with no chemical preservatives, fillers, additives and colors, and their meats are free of antibiotics and growth stimulants. They are a family run business, and “A Certified Woman Owned Business Enterprise” to boot, with their traditions dating back to Germany’s 17th century. With that resume, I was quite impressed and eager to taste a sampling of their specialties.

When the box arrived, it indeed felt like Christmas.  We have happily indulged in Duck Liver Mousse with Cognac, a rustic and hearty Pheasant Rosemary Pate, unctuous award winning Duck Rillettes, and a silky Truffled Mousse flecked with mushrooms and laced with sherry.

The flavors of the products reflected the company philosophy. They were fresh with a clean taste of meat and no lingering gaminess. The Truffled Mousse was the family favorite, smooth, creamy and delicately perfumed with truffle. Each package came with a shelf life of at least 56 days, enabling us to savor and enjoy each item over several weeks, pulling them out for an easy rustic dinner of cheese and pate or as an appetizer while entertaining. I will continue to make my own charcuterie when I want a project. When I want a go-to specialty meat product I won’t hesitate to buy Alexian.

If you are looking for other charcuterie projects, you might enjoy these recicpes from TasteFood:
Pork Rillettes with Calvados and a Recipe for Apple Prune Chutney
Homemade Bratwurst and a Recipe for Beer Mustard
Homemade Italian Sausage and Broccolini Pasta
Homemade Merguez

Full disclosure: I received the Alexian products free of charge. The opinions I have written are entirely my own.

Home-Cured Pork Belly and a Recipe for Caramelized Bacon Chips

Home-Cured Pork Belly and a Recipe for Caramelized Bacon Chips

I was tempted to call this post The Girl and the Pig, because, you see, I am hooked on bacon. More specifically, I am hooked on my own home-cured bacon. Prompted by the latest Charcutepalooza challenge, I cured 6 pounds of pork belly with a savory rub of salt, sugar, peppercorns, bay leaves and garlic. Sounds like a simple blend, yet when left to marinate and cure over a week, this basic recipe yielded swoon-worthy results.  For my first attempt, I pointedly avoided using lots of sugar or smoking the bacon. I wanted a savory result undistracted by excessive sweetness or the aroma of smoke: I wanted to taste the real deal, and it was worth it.

What to do with 6 pounds of home-cured bacon? (Oh, to be so lucky to have that problem.)  So far, I’ve eaten quite a bit, frozen half and given some away. Normally, I use bacon as an ingredient in salads, stews and pasta dishes, but this bacon is so good, I only want to eat it straight up, fried in a skillet or baked in the oven. So, in the spirit of simplicity, I decided to caramelize bacon chips, roasting them in the oven with spices and the previously forsaken sugar.  Sweet, salty, crispy and spicy – the results were utterly decadent. Now the question begs:  Is this a dessert, snack, condiment or food group? I say all of the above.

Caramelized Bacon Chips

If you can stand it, let the bacon chips thoroughly cool once removed from the oven. They will continue to crispen as they cool.

1 cup light brown sugar
1 teaspoon cayenne, or to taste
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon, or to taste
12 ounces thinly sliced bacon, cut in 2 inch strips

Preheat oven to 350 F. (180 C.)  Pour sugar onto a small plate. Dredge bacon in sugar, making sure that a good amount sticks. Lay bacon in a single layer on a grill pan. Sprinkle with cayenne and cinnamon.  Bake in oven until deep golden brown, without burning, turning once with a spatula, 12-15 minutes. Remove from oven and transfer bacon to a plate lined with parchment paper. Cool completely.

What is Charcutepalooza?
An inspirational idea hatched by Cathy Barrow and Kim Foster and now partnering with Food52. It celebrates a Year in Meat, where participating foodies and bloggers will cure, smoke and salt their way through Michael Ruhlman’s bestselling cookbook Charcuterie. 


Spaghetti with Bacon, Breadcrumbs and Arugula

Spaghetti with Bacon, Breadcrumbs and Arugula

Spaghetti with Bacon, Breadcrumbs and Arugula

There are many ways to face the winter doldrums. You know, that time when there is a lull in season and activities. The bang of New Year has passed, and winter lays ahead, blustery, chilly and gray. Call it the post-holiday blues. Or, more optimistically, call it a clean slate. It’s all good. A little down time is healthy for us, offering a window to focus inward and reflect. It’s a priceless moment of stillness before the year accelerates in its usual fashion. Enjoy that moment and its simple pleasures. Listen to the silence of the snowfall, brew a pot of tea, walk the dog. And when you’re cooking, be sure to include bacon. Bacon always helps.

Spaghetti with Bacon and Arugula

Serves 4

12 ounces applewood smoked bacon, cut in 1 inch pieces
1/2 cup panko breadcrumbs
Freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1 pound perciatelli or spaghetti
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 garlic clove, minced
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup grated Parmegiano-Reggiano cheese
3 cups arugula, washed and dried

Heat a skillet over medium heat. Add bacon and sauté until fat is rendered and bacon is golden brown. Transfer with slotted spoon to a plate lined with a paper towel. Discard all but one tablespoon fat. Add breadcrumbs, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1/2 teaspoon black pepper and red pepper flakes to the skillet. Sauté until breadcrumbs are golden. Transfer to a small bowl.
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add pasta and cook until al dente; drain. Transfer pasta to a large serving bowl.
While pasta is cooking, add one tablespoon olive oil to a clean skillet or saucepan. Add garlic and sauté 1 minute. Add cream and simmer until slightly reduced and thickened, 3-4 minutes. Add 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon black pepper to the cream. Pour cream over pasta. Add bacon, arugula and half of the cheese. Toss to combine. Sprinkle breadcrumbs and remaining cheese over pasta and briefly toss. Serve immediately.

Pasta with Bacon and Brussel Sprouts

Pasta with Bacon and Brussel Sprouts

Pasta with Bacon and Brussel Sprouts is a match made in heaven – you get to eat your vegetables and have your bacon, too.  It’s a perfect dinner in the autumn season when cool grey weather beckons rich and hearty ingredients. Full of healthy crucifers, studded with crispy bacon and bound with a semi-light sauce of chicken stock and cream, it’s at once rich and fresh.  This recipe is easy and quick to make with ingredients readily available, making it a great candidate for a weeknight meal.
Pasta with Bacon and Brussel Sprouts

For a twist, substitute brussel sprouts with cauliflower or broccoli. Just be sure not to omit the bacon. Serves 4.

1 pound orrechiette or conchiglie pasta

1/2 pound bacon, cut in 1/2 inch pieces
3/4 pound brussel sprouts, trimmed and halved
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 boil. Add pasta and cook until al dente. Drain; transfer to a large bowl.
While the pasta is cooking, heat a skillet over medium heat. Add bacon and cook until fat is rendered and golden. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on a plate lined with a paper towel. Discard all but one tablespoon bacon fat from skillet. Add brussel sprouts and saute until they start to soften. Add garlic and saute until fragrant, 1 minutes. Add chicken stock and continue to cook until brussel sprouts are tender. Add cream and simmer until reduced and thickened. Stir in salt and pepper.
Add brussel sprouts and bacon to the pasta. Toss with cheese to combine. Serve with extra cheese on the side.

In Season: Frisée and Escarole Salad with Bacon

Salad Lardons tf

This hearty salad is not bashful. Assertive seasonal greens are tossed with a sharp Dijon vinaigrette, then scattered with crispy lardons (bacon cubes) and croutons. While this salad might easily be the star of an easy weeknight dinner, served with a wedge of runny cheese and a glass of red wine, it’s an appropriately bold accompaniment to a rich and meaty stew such as Beef Bourguignon. And, of course, it’s an excuse to eat more bacon – which, in our home, is always in season.

Lardons Salad tf

Frisée and Escarole Salad with Lardons

Inspired by the French Salade Lyonnaise, which traditionally calls for sautéing the leaves in warm bacon drippings and topping the salad with a poached egg, this version omits the egg and browns the croutons in the bacon fat.

Serves 4

One medium head frisée, ends and outer leaves removed, washed
One half head of escarole, ends and outer leaves removed, washed
6 ounces slab bacon, rind trimmed, cut in 1/4″ cubes
8 or 12 baguette slices, 1/2″ thick
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil

Place frisée and escarole in a large bowl.
Heat a skillet over medium heat and add bacon.  Cook until fat is rendered and bacon is crispy golden. Transfer bacon with a slotted spoon to a plate lined with a paper towel to drain.  Pour off all of the bacon fat except for one tablespoon.  Return skillet to stovetop.  Add baguette slices in one layer in batches.  Cook over medium heat until golden on both sides, turning once.  Transfer bread to another plate lined with a paper towel.

Combine vinegar, mustard, salt and pepper in a small bowl.  Slowly pour in olive oil, whisking constantly to emulsify. Pour dressing over salad leaves and toss to combine.  Arrange salad on serving plates.  Top with bacon and baguette croutons.

Bacon, Broccoli and Tomato Pasta

Bacon, Broccoli and Tomato Pasta
School is out, and summer holiday has officially begun. With that comes a flurry of activities, children home, impending visitors and finalizing travel plans. For those of us who work at home, the hours during school are necessary to get our tasks done. Now the day flies by in a whirlwind of carpools, playdates, unexpected visitors, doctors appointments, errands. Who has time to cook? The answer to that would normally be someone who has a food blog. But these days, creative cooking just isn’t happening – even in our house. By the time dinner rolls around, the inevitable question: “What’s for dinner?” lingers unanswered in the air. Don’t worry. We’ll get our groove back. In the meantime, it helps to have a few quick dishes in the repertoire, so when the WFD question is posed, there is a handy reply.
I call this recipe BBT Pasta. Bacon, Broccoli and Tomato Pasta is quick to make with ingredients readily on hand or easy to purchase. Improvisation is encouraged, so long as you don’t omit the glorious bacon. Try substituting the broccoli with cauliflower. Or omit the broccoli altogether and toss in a generous handful of arugula at the end, which might pass as a BLT Pasta. Any way you choose, this pasta dish is light, flavorful and easy to prepare. Perfect for these hectic early days of summer.

Bacon, Broccoli and Tomato Pasta

Serves 4

1 pound long cut fusilli or other corkscrew shaped pasta
4 slices thick sliced smoked bacon, cut in 1/2 inch pieces
1 garlic clove, minced
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/2 pound broccolini, ends trimmed, cut in 1 inch pieces
1/2 pound grape or cherry tomatoes, halved if large
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, plus extra for garnish

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add pasta and cook until al dente; drain. Fry bacon in a deep skillet until golden brown. Transfer to a plate lined with a paper towel. Pour off all but 1 tablespoon bacon fat. Add garlic and red pepper flakes. Sauté briefly until fragrant, 30 seconds. Add broccolini. Sauté until bright green and crisp tender. Add tomatoes, cream, one teaspoon salt and black pepper. Simmer to heat through. Add pasta, bacon and 1/2 cup cheese to skillet; toss to coat. Serve immediately, garnished with remaining cheese.

Note: If using arugula, toss in 2 cups washed and dried arugula with the bacon and cheese.