Friday, October 26, 2012

Everything's Better with Bacon!

If you’re a frequent reader of this column, you know that I am a big fan of Mark Bittman.  For those who aren’t familiar with him, he’s a food columnist for the New York Times, and in several previous columns I’ve referred to some of his work.  One of my favorites came from a 2009 column “101 Simple Salads for the Season.”  Here were his instructions: “Cut cherry or grape tomatoes in half; toss with soy sauce, a bit of dark sesame oil and basil or cilantro.”  I’ve made that so many times it is almost embarrassing.
A couple of weeks ago, in the New York Times Sunday Magazine, he offered 25 ways to cook with bacon, in much the same format. One, simply listed as “Spanish style,” involved cherry tomatoes and a touch of Spanish pimento (smoked paprika).  I made it once, adding my own touches to it, and loved it so much I invited friends for dinner just so I’d have an excuse to make it again.
Mr. Bittman suggested it be topped with toasted bread crumbs. I used it as a pasta sauce, rather than a side dish and topped it with grated cheese. Of course I had to add garlic, and at the end, I thought it needed a touch of color so I added a handful of arugula and let it wilt a bit.               
                The first time, I used linguine, but the chunkiness of the sauce called out for a chunkier pasta. Cavatappi, fusilli, penne, rigatoni, all would work better than long skinny pasta.
                A green salad is all you need to make this a meal you’ll be proud to serve to your friends.
 Mark Bittman’s Spanish Bacon Sauce
 12 oz. good smoky bacon (see note)
1 pint grape tomatoes
3 plump cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1 can chickpeas, drained
A large handful arugula
2 tsp Spanish smoked paprika
12 oz. chunky pasta
Grated pecorino romano, for garnish
               Cut the bacon crosswise into 1/2” pieces.  In a large heavy skillet, cook the bacon over medium heat, stirring often, until just barely crisp.  Remove with a slotted spoon and reserve.  Add the tomatoes to the pan and cook without stirring, until the bottom side is browned.  This is the time to use a splatter screen if you have it; the tomatoes tend to pop and splatter. Once one side is brown, shake the pan a couple of times so the tomatoes roll around in the pan juices.  Add the garlic and cook about 30 seconds. Add the chickpeas.  You can do this to this point a little ahead, then reheat when the pasta is done and you’re ready to serve.
Cook the pasta in plenty of well salted water. Follow the package directions for the proper length of time for al dente pasta. Reserve a cup of the cooking water, drain and return to the hot pan.               Add about a half cup of the cooking water, the arugula and smoked paprika to the pan and warm through. Return the bacon to the pan.  Add a little more of the pasta water if you think it needs it. Add to the pasta, toss to combine. Turn into a well-warmed bowl and serve immediately. Pass the cheese at the table.  Serves four as a main course, or six as an Italian style first course pasta.
NOTE: I used Benton’s bacon, which is a very delicious, very smoky bacon from East Tennessee.  You can now find Benton’s bacon at Lucchesi’s, on Sanderlin.
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