Tuesday, May 1, 2012

A pair of Italian classics

Hi there!

Hopefully by now you all know how I feel about home-smoked bacon. It's just something really special that few people would take the time to do, not like most people have that kind of time anyway! So, when I do take the time to make my own, I like to think of the best ways to use it. I've used it in chili, made a LOT of greasy breakfasts, and had a good whack of sandwiches. But after three different sessions of creating my own bacon, I've started to run out of ideas. Luckily, Mother Nature inspired me on a freakish April morning. When I started writing this post, it was April 23rd and we were getting snow. Yup, snow in late April, frak me.

But this kind of weather does kindle the spirit of creating hearty comfort food at least one last time. And there's something about Italian food in general and pasta in particular that makes it possibly THE most comforting kind of food in the world. So, when one thinks of pasta and bacon, naturally the thoughts gravitate to Carbonara. For those who don't know, Carbonara is a rich style of sauce using bacon, egg and dairy (milk/cream and/or cheese). It's preparation is simple enough: bacon is cooked in a pan, other ingredients, including cooked pasta, are thrown in the pan using some of the fat to bind the sauce with garlic, onion, dairy and other ingredients. Finally, egg is added and lightly cooked to add richness. It's quite tasty and hearty; perfect for an April blizzard.

Carbonara is most commonly used with spaghetti, but linguine, fettuccine and "stringy" pastas work as well. In this case, I only had linguine, so that's what I used!

Pasta Carbonara (mainly taken from this recipe at AllRecipes.com)

Serves 2 (4 if appetites are small)


- 250 g (1/2 pound) spaghetti, linguine or other pasta
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 4 slices of bacon (best possible!)
- 1 small red onion, diced
- 1-2 cloves garlic, minced
- a splash of white wine
- 1/2 cup 2 % milk (most recipes I've found use cream, but that's too damn rich for my blood)
- 2 large eggs
- 1/4-1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese (to taste)
- 2 tbsp fresh parsley, chopped

- Set pot of salted water to boil to cook pasta. Cook pasta to desired tenderness, strain and set aside in a bowl tossed with olive oil to keep pasta from sticking to itself.
- In a pan, fry bacon until crisp and set aside on paper towels. Reserve 1 tbsp of bacon fat in pan, drain the rest.
- Sauté onion and garlic in bacon fat until onions are well-cooked. Add wine and milk and reduce a little (cook for about 5 minutes).
- Add cooked bacon and pasta. Toss everything to coat well.
- Add eggs and cook while tossing constantly. You want to cook the eggs just a little so that they set, but you're not making an pasta omelette!
- Add cheese and toss everything well. Serve in a large pasta bowl/plate and top with parsley and extra cheese if desired.

OK, the plating isn't 4-star restaurant quality, but that's some tasty pasta!
 Now, since Carbonara isn't exactly health food and the amount of veggies used in it is kind of small, I figured a nice salad would be a good accompaniment.

Another Italian classic is Panzanella Salad, which is basically a bread salad. Traditionally, at least according to wikipedia, it's made using stale bread that's been soaked and then squeezed dry, tomatoes, oil and vinegar, with onions and basil added for good measure. Ironically enough, I made a salad similar to a Panzanella last Summer without actually knowing it had a name. I guess good recipes are somewhat universal...

Now, my version of the panzanella was basically the same thing as the traditional version with two notable exceptions. First, instead of using stale bread, I used toasted cornbread I'd made a few days earlier. Second, I omitted the raw onions (because who needs the heartburn?) and replaced them with sliced artichoke hearts and slices of bocconcini. So here's how to make it.

Panzanella Salad - Brennan-style

Serves 2


- 2 slices stale bread, toasted (focaccia works best - or use the equivalent amount of cornbread, toasted in the oven or toaster until crispy) and cubed
- 2 ripe tomatoes, diced
- 1-2 marinated artichoke hearts, sliced
- 2-3 bocconcini balls, sliced (or more if using the tiny version of bocconcini)
- 2 tbsp best-quality olive oil
- 2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
- juice of 1/8 lemon
- salt and pepper to taste
- pinch red chili flakes
- 1 tsp fresh basil, chopped

- In a bowl, combine bread, tomatoes, artichoke and bocconcini.
- In another bowl, whisk together olive oil, vinegar, lemon juice, salt, pepper and chili flakes
- Add dressing to salad and toss.
- Serve topped with fresh basil.

While it might not be traditional, it's damn tasty!
 And there it is! One last salute to wintry comfort food with a bit of Spring freshness on the side. I hope you enjoy it! I certainly did!

Till next time!

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