Comfort me with pasta

It’s been a rough week, with a really sick cat and all, so I figured we could use some comfort chow for dinner tonight. These days, that means a pasta toss with lots o’ veggies. After hitting up the local market to stock up on Brussels sprouts, cremini mushrooms, and a wedge of pecorino Romano, we were ready to go. I’m not sure when Brussels sprouts became a comfort food for me, but they are they are. Especially with bacon. Come to think of it, everything is better with bacon.

cimg0982Penne with Brussels Sprouts and Mushrooms

This would work with any short pasta–orrechiette or cavatappi, perhaps. I used cremini mushrooms for their full, earthy flavor, but white button mushrooms would do the trick just fine. You can substitute a slice or two of regular bacon (with smokier results) for the pancetta.

6 ounces dry penne pasta

2 tablespoons diced pancetta

2 tablespoons finely chopped shallot

1 garlic clove, minced

4 ounces cremini mushrooms, thinly sliced

1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

1/2 pound Brussels sprouts, trimmed and thinly sliced

1/2 cup chicken broth

1 teaspoon sherry vinegar

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

1/4 cup (1 ounce) shaved pecorino Romano cheese

1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh sage

1. Cook the pasta in a large pot of boiling salted water until al dente. Drain, and keep warm.

2. While the pasta cooks, heat a saute pan over medium-high heat. Add pancetta to pan; saute 2 minutes. Add shallot; saute 2 minutes. Add garlic; saute 20 seconds. Add mushrooms and salt; saute 2 minutes. Add Brussels sprouts, broth, vinegar, and pepper; cook 5 minutes. Add cooked pasta, and toss to combine; cook 1 minute or until hot. Garnish with cheese and sage. Yield: 2 servings.

Food of the year: Bacon


Black Forest bacon from Shaller & Weber.

Black Forest bacon from Shaller & Weber.

2008 may well go down as the year I finally embraced bacon. I’m not sure why it took me so long to come around. My mom was a fiend for bacon–one of the last things I remember her eating was fat scallops wrapped in bacon. She ordered rashers of the stuff when she was in the hospital with lung cancer, much to the consternation of the staff nutritionists. They’d call to set her straight.

“Mrs. Mann, we got your order, and I’m afraid bacon doesn’t count as a protein.”

“That’s not really an issue for me now,” she’d reply. “Send me the bacon.”

Perhaps it took me a long stay in the Deep South, where the natives love all things pig, but I’ve finally come to realize bacon is a staple that deserves a spot in the fridge at all times. I love i’s smoky flavor and crunch, which elevates all manner of dishes. I also appreciate  the flavorful fat it renders, which I use to saute, well, anything, really.

Perhaps it took me a long stay in the Deep South, where the natives love all things pig, but I’ve finally come to realize bacon is a staple that deserves a spot in the fridge at all times. 

Of course, I’m latecomer to a really big party, because bacon has always had a passionate following. I (Heart) Bacon is a Seattle-based blog devoted to cured pig products. Another one is Bacon Freak (i.e., “Bacon is Meat Candy”), where you can order everything from gift baskets of bacon to gummy bacon candy. Serious Eats just named bacon one of their top posts for 2008.

I picked up a half-pound of Black Forest bacon, a thickly sliced, German-style smoked and cured variety, at the Whole Foods meat counter the other day. And I’ve enjoyed it this week with Brussels sprouts and spinach, and in place of unsmoked pancetta in Bon Appetit‘s Fettuccine Carbonara with Fried Eggs (I also omitted the fried eggs and used spinach in place of the broccoli rabe). But here’s how I use it with Brussels sprouts in my current favorite side dish.

Brussels Sprouts with Black Forest Bacon

Brussels sprouts and bacon have a special affinity. You can use any type of bacon in this easy side dish, though the smokiness of Black Forest bacon is especially nice. Depending on the type of bacon you use, you may not need much (or any) salt. Quartering the sprouts helps them cook quickly. You could add shallots with the garlic, if you like, or deglaze the pan with white wine instead of broth. Serve with roasted pork tenderloin or chicken.

1 pound small Brussels sprouts

2 slices Black Forest bacon, chopped

1 garlic clove, minced

1/4 cup chicken broth

Salt and black pepper, to taste

1. Trim away the outer leaves and stalk end of the Brussels sprouts. Cut sprouts into quarters.

2. Heat a skillet over medium-high heat. Add bacon; cook 5 minutes, or until bacon starts to get crisp and render its fat. Add garlic; saute 30 seconds. Add sprouts, saute 5 minutes. Add broth, scraping the pan to loosen any browned bits. Reduce heat, and cook 3 minutes, or until sprouts are tender. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serves 4.