November 15, 2011

pasta with roasted tomato sauce and bacon

In the past few weeks, I’ve made three variations on this recipe. The first was great but time-consuming, the second was delicious and will become my fallback recipe, and the third was our ultra-budget version that turned out better than expected. Here is how it all went down …

A few weekends ago, I was reading cookbooks and drinking coffee while Jordan slept in and Willow took up too much space in the bed. (It’s hard to kick something this cute out from under your covers, trust us).

I stumbled across a variation on Pasta Amatriciana—pasta with braised bacon and roasted tomato sauce—in the Zuni Cafe Cookbook. When Jordan woke up, I shared just the recipe title and he was sold. I set out to make this magical pasta. The recipe calls for slab bacon, which you then braise with a variety of vegetables and spices. Well, slab bacon is really hard to find, even at a fine market like Whole Foods. In a stroke of genius, I tied the cut bacon together so it re-formed a slab. Sadly, this does not work. My braised bacon was so bland; all of the smokey, salty flavor had leached into the broth and left the bacon beyond dull. There are few things sadder than flavorless bacon.

Fortunately, Jordan saved the dish by bringing home the back-up bacon. We sautéed that bacon and added it into the roasted tomato sauce, plus some of the braised bacon for texture. It worked well, but was slightly disappointing. The time-energy input did not match the deliciousness output.

The second time I made this recipe, I skipped right to adding sautéed bacon to the roasted tomato sauce. It is so good and so easy.

The last time I made this recipe, we had no bacon at all. We did however have some rendered bacon fat in our fridge. I sautéed the onions for the sauce in that bacon fat, and  like magic, delicious bacon flavor infused the whole sauce. It was unexpected and amazing and so inexpensive. The next time you cook bacon, pour the fat into a small bowl. Fill with the bowl some water to separate the fat from the burnt bits.  Refrigerate this mixture until the fat forms a solid mass on top of the water and carefully scoop the fat off the top. Sauté away, adding delicious bacon essence to whatever you cook!

Pasta with Roasted Tomato Sauce and Bacon, adapted from The Zuni Cafe Cookbook
1 16 oz jar of whole tomatoes
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, sliced
2 T sugar
2 T olive oil or bacon fat
salt, pepper, chili flake
1/4 lb bacon, cut into lardon
1 lb pasta (we used ziti and penne).

*A is a beautiful photo of a technique that I don’t recommend you subject your bacon to.

Heat an oven to 475 degrees. Strain the tomatoes of their juice and reserve that juice. In an oven safe dish, add the strained tomatoes and a drizzle of olive oil. Roast the tomatoes for 20 – 30 minutes, until browned.

In a saute pan, saute the bacon until just cooked through. Remove from the pan and set aside. Pour off the excess fat, leaving a tablespoon or two. Sauté the onion in the bacon fat until translucent. Add the garlic and sauté two minutes more. Add the roasted tomatoes and reserved juice. Add sugar, salt, pepper and a pinch of chili flakes. Cook for 20 minutes and test for seasoning.

Meanwhile, put a pot of salted water to boil. Cook the pasta until al dente. When the pasta is nearly done, add the bacon back into the sauce. Toss the sauce with the cooked pasta and serve with a sprinkle of parmesan.

-Emily

larb—a delightful thai salad

I am a big fan of the Spilled Milk Podcast by Molly Wizenberg and Mathew Amester-Burton. It makes me laugh out loud—usually on my commute home—which in any other city might look weird, but in San Francisco just makes me typical. A few weeks ago they did an episode on Thai Salads and I was inspired to try this dish. The toasted rice component was irresistible.

This dish is typically served in cabbage leaves. You could also serve it over rice or noodles. Or —my preferred method—make little Thai burritos with cabbage leaves, rice and larb all wrapped up in one awesome bundle.

Larb Gai, adapted from Spilled Milk
1 pound ground chicken thighs or pork (breasts will dry out too much)
1/2 cup shallots, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons scallions, sliced
2 tablespoons fish sauce
3 tablespoons lime juice from 1 to 2 limes
1 teaspoon red chile flakes
2 to 3 tablespoons toasted rice powder (below)
cabbage or lettuce leaves leaves

Heat a skillet over medium-high heat. Add the ground chicken or pork, shallots, scallions, red pepper flakes, fish sauce, and lime juice. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the meat is cooked through.

Turn the larb out into a bowl and cool for at least ten minutes. Stir in rice powder. Serve with cabbage or lettuce leaves for wrapping.

Toasted Rice Powder
1/4 white rice, uncooked

Place a dry skillet over medium heat. Add 1/4 cup white rice to the pan. Toast the rice, stirring and shaking the pan frequently, until the rice is golden-brown, about 5 minutes. Cool to room temperature and grind to a very fine powder in a spice grinder or coffee grinder. I used my magic bullet—thanks Dad!

Larb is as delicious as it is fun to say! Jordan and I really enjoyed this meal. We are also trying to invent more things to top with toasted rice powder! That stuff is awesome.

-Emily