For the several years during which the Practical Cook was a committed vegetarian, there was one temptation: bacon. Informal polling indicates she is not alone in this particular weakness. Bacon is a staple of the cooking culture that spawned me, and I do love it. From the artisanal movement of high-end bacon to the nearly illicit joy of spiking vegetables with bacon grease, here are three ways to bring home the bacon.
A few tips:
- Buy good bacon. You are eating a cholesterol-laden, salt-infused calorie bomb. Enjoy it. Just not every day.
- Do not try to healthy this up by using turkey bacon, which is not that much healthier per my research, and has an unsatisfying texture. Research further indicates that we eat more of things that don’t taste that great or live up to our expectations. So I don’t recommend this substitution.
- For the one vegetarian who is still reading this far down, Facon will work in the recipes that involve bacon bits.
Making the Bacon
First, how does one cook a rasher of bacon efficiently? If you’re not blessed with some sort of grill cooktop (the Practical Cook laments that she doesn’t have such a device), fire up the oven to 400 degrees and break out the baking sheets.
Baking your bacon takes about 20-30 minutes total (rotate the pan once halfway through), depending on the thickness and provenance. Cook to your desired level of crispiness, then pour the fat into a clean glass jar. Let cool, then refrigerate.
Do not wash that baking sheet! You are going to “deglaze” it with cauliflower (or a root veggie of your choice, such as turnips, beets, sweet potatoes, carrots, or potatoes). For this example, TPC drained excess fat off of the baking sheet, wiped it briefly with a paper towel, and then tossed a head of cauliflower florets on it. No need to turn off the oven, just keep it at 400 and roast away. (For complete method, visit the Ode to Cauliflower.) Wow, that’s all I have to say. Baconflower.
Pasta Tossed with Bacon, Butternut Squash, and Cooking Greens
This can’t truly be called a recipe, just some more guidelines. For the few pieces of bacon that didn’t fit on the baking sheet, I fried them in a pan I planned to use to make the squash. Drain the excess grease (or sub olive oil if you don’t have bacon grease), saute 1 shallot, diced, and 1 butternut squash, cubed into 1/2 inch cubes, over medium heat for 7 minutes, or until they are softish. Season mixture with a bit of dried thyme (~1/2 teaspoon), 1/2 cup of chicken stock (or veggie stock, or water if you must), salt and pepper to taste, and greens. (Shown is some combo of kale and mustard, I think. My kids picked them at my family’s farm, so it could be grass and weeds.) Cover and cook on medium low for another 10 to 15 minutes, until squash is cooked through and greens are tender. Take off heat, sprinkle with balasamic vinegar and 3-4 strips of bacon diced into bits.
Toss with pasta. (This is Trader Joe’s Cheese Tortellini.) This basic recipe works with or without bacon, you can add goat cheese, you can use any pasta, stuffed or unstuffed, and any type of green. The flavors are big, and it’s quick and satisfying.
The last way is cornbread. Bacon grease and cracklings are traditional cornbread ingredients. Just take your favorite cornbread recipe and sub the bacon fat back into it. The picture shows the Practical Cook’s favorite cornbread, as made in The Cornbread Gospels, a true work of art by a fabulous cookbook author (and published by a company I used to work for). The specifics will have to wait for another post, another day. Cornbread is a passion, so look for more on that topic in the future.
Coming up next time, the Practical Cook waxes philosophical about Grapefruit: The Citrus That Started It All.
Till then, keep those requests coming. Thanks to several of you, the Practical Cook’s Trader Joe’s bill almost doubled this week.
practicalcook at gmail dot com