Happy International Bacon Day!
Bacon has taken on a whole new level of popularity in the recent decade. Although it has been a popular and common breakfast food for centuries, it seems that bacon has gone a bit wild in the culinary scene. Not only has it flown from the breakfast plate to the dessert bar (and every meal in between)bacon seems to have found its way into the non-food venue as well.
Bacon has been presented in a rustic manner most of it's life; a slab of meat that's cured and smoked then baked as is and eaten with our hands. We've also experienced it's recent fun side, dipped in chocolate, mixed with ice cream, etc. And even it's silly side, scented candles, air fresheners, and shaving cream. Now it's time to allow it to shine in a more sophisticated manner, as a flavor enhancer rather than having it hog the spot light. Let's appreciate it in it's more grown-up presentation in this delicious dish. With all the crazy things that bacon has been subjected to, it's nice to present it in a more subtle, upscale fashion.
Fettuccine with Bacon and Kale
From the cookbook, Bacon Nation by Peter Kaminsky and Marie Rama
5 slices of bacon, cut into 1/2 inch pieces (cooking shears work wonders with this prep)
8 oz of kale, center rib removed, leaves coarsely chopped
8 oz fettuccine
3 cloves of garlic, thinly sliced
1/4 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
1/2 cup chicken stock
1/2 cup grated Pecorino Romano cheese, plus more for garnishing
Fresh ground nutmeg for garnishing
Bring 4 or 5 quarts of water to a boil.
While that is going on, cook the bacon in a large skillet over medium heat for about 5 - 8 minutes, until the bacon is lightly browned and most of the fat is rendered. Remove the bacon for the skillet and place on a paper towel lined plate to drain, reserving the bacon fat in the skillet.
Once the water has come to a boil, add salt and the kale. Cook, uncovered for about 5 minutes then using a slotted spoon transfer the blanched kale to a colander to drain.
Return the water to a boil. Add the pasta, stirring to separate and cook until al denta, according to the directions on the package.
Meanwhile, add enough olive oil to the bacon fat in the skillet to measure 2 or 3 TB. Heat for about 30 seconds or so, over medium heat or until the fat begins to shimmer. Add the kale, garlic, and crushed red pepper flakes, tossing to coat. Cook for about 3 minutes, tossing and stirring occasionally.
Return the bacon the skillet along with the chicken stock and let simmer until warm, about a minute or two.
When the pasta is cooked, reserve 1/2 cup of the pasta water. Drain the pasta and return to the pot, over low heat.
Add the kale and bacon mixture to the pasta and toss to combine. Add the cheese and about 1/4 cup of pasta water to thin the sauce as desired.
Serve immediately, garnishing with a bit of freshly grated nutmeg (not much...a little goes a long way) and more grated cheese.
If you don't have, or can't get Pecorino Romano cheese then use Parmesan. While they are not the same, I believe they are similar enough for the dish.
I love the flavors that come together so nicely in this simple dish. The kale (which could be substituted for spinach if cooked in less time) with all of its nutritional value, made me feel like I was being very conscientious about what I was eating. With only 5 slices of bacon in the whole dish, (which serves 3 - 4 people as a main dish) there really wasn't any guilt going on here. See? We can have our bacon and eat it too. In a more grown-up sort of way.
If you love bacon but feel guilty when you eat it...use it as an accent rather than a side in and of itself and you'll be able to enjoy it's culinary benefits more often.