Pasta Milanese

This dish literally took my entire family to create. When we were in Michigan, my mom gifted me with some pork from my cousin’s pig. Heather and Rick raise a few pigs every year at their home. Come fall, the pigs are butchered and my cousins share some of the meat with our family. I’d heard that their pork was pretty amazing – their pigs are fed day-old produce from the farmers near where they live, so they eat everything from sweet corn to peaches. Not a bad diet for pigs or people!

I unwrapped the bacon my mom gave me, and knew that we would be rationing the precious slabs to get as many meals out of it as possible. The smell of smoke wafted from the chilled bacon – it’s very lean, almost ham-like. For our first bacon experience, I decided to make an old family favorite – Pasta Milanese, with the fresh bacon as the star ingredient.

Pasta Milanese is a great cook-from-the-pantry dish that comes together quickly – you can have this on the table in under a half hour. Milanese was a favorite dish in our family and always disappeared from the table when mom made it (though she would make this with prosciutto or sliced pepperoni instead of bacon). I’ve changed my mom’s recipe a little bit – minimizing the amount of oil I used, and heating the dish up with lots of red pepper flakes and black pepper. This was a fantastic lunch from the pantry, and the fresh basil made me long for summer on this subzero winter day.

Pasta Milanese
Serves 2

6oz brown rice penne pasta (dried)
2 thick slices of bacon, chopped
1/2 cup sliced onion
1 T olive oil
2 cloves garlic, sliced
1/3 cup finely grated parmesan, grated with microplane
1/4 cup sliced oven roasted tomatoes (substitute sun-dried tomatoes)
2 T fresh basil, sliced
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes (or to taste)
1/2 tsp ground black pepper

  1. Bring 3qts of salted water to a rolling boil. Add the rice pasta to the boiling water and stir to make sure the noodles don’t stick to each other. Cook according to the package directions.
  2. While the pasta cooks, make the “sauce”. Heat a large non-stick skillet over medium heat. Add the bacon to the hot pan and cook for a minute or two, then add the onion to the pan, and saute until the bacon begins to crisp and the onions caramelize – about 5 minutes.
  3. Turn the sauce burner down to low. Add the red pepper flakes, garlic and pepper to the pan along with the olive oil, if needed – if there’s some bacon fat in the pan coating the onion, you may not need the additional oil.
  4. When the pasta is done, drain it in a colander, then toss the pasta into the pan with the bacon and onion mixture. Quickly toss the pasta with the ingredients, then add in the basil, oven-roasted tomatoes and parmesan cheese and toss the pasta gently before serving.

537 cal/serving, 160cal from fat, 19.1g fat, 30mg cholesterol, 260mg sodium, 190mg potassium, 70g carbs, 4g fiber, 2g sugars

Perfect Pintos

I think the humble dried bean often gets overlooked in the US – cast off as too time consuming to cook or too boring, or peasant food. Me, when the weather turns cool, the first thing I do is replenish my stock of heirloom Rancho Gordo beans, and grab my dutch oven to make a comforting pot of beans.

And I’m going to tell you once again, that if you haven’t tried the beans from Rancho Gordo – get on over to their site and place an order…these beans are head and shoulders above anything you get in a grocery store. Freshness matters in dried beans, and when you buy from your grocery, you don’t know if they’ve been sitting in a warehouse or on a store shelf for 3 years. Fresh beans mean creamier beans – old beans can be chalky, even when fully cooked.

I’m happy to sit down to a simple bowl of beans for lunch, spiked with herbs or chipotles, maybe with some brown rice served alongside. These pintos are so creamy, and the broth is so flavorful, they are great all on their own. We used some of the leftovers and fried them up to fill some simple quesadillas.

Perfect Pintos
Serves 5

1/2 lb dried pinto beans, soaked overnight
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 onion, diced
1 red bell pepper, diced
2 stalks celery, diced
3 bay leaves
1 cup homeade chicken stock (optional)
2 strips bacon
1/2 tsp kosher salt
chipotle puree to taste

  1. Soak the beans overnight in a large bowl covered in at least 3 inches of cold water.
  2. Heat a 3 quart pot over medium heat. When the pot is hot, add the bacon and cook until about halfway crisp, when some of the fat has rendered into the pot. Then, add in the diced onion, celery, bell pepper and saute until the veggies begin to soften – about 5 minutes. Then, add in the beans, chicken stock and enough water to cover the beans by about 2 inches. Bring the beans to a boil, then reduce the heat to low, and gently simmer the beans for an hour or so, until done. Add in a spoonful or two of chipotle puree to season, then add in 1/2 tsp of salt. Stir, then turn the heat off and allow the beans to rest and soak up the salt in the broth for 30 minutes or so before serving.
  3. If there is more broth in the pot when the beans are done than you prefer, ladle the broth off, and save it for another use – the broth is so flavorful, it shouldn’t be wasted!

164 cal/serving, 50 cal from fat, 5.7g fat, 5mg cholesterol, 520mg sodium, 150mg potassium, 33g carbs, 18g dietary fiber, 4g sugars

Brussels Sprouts with Bacon

Brussels sprouts seem to be a much maligned vegetable – they don’t get a lot of attention, but to me, they are one of the many gems of the fall harvest season. I can remember that when I was a kid, my mom and I were the only ones that would eat them, so she would cook them up with some butter, salt and pepper and serve them in little bowls along with pork chops and Mom’s awesome fried apples. I used to call them “little shrunken heads.” Even though I would eat them as a kid, I know I didn’t appreciate them as I do now.

Cabbage, and all of the brassica family of vegetables (cabbage, kale, broccoli, kohlrabi, brussels), are among my favorite veggies – I love their versatility, as they soak up whatever flavors you cook them with, and they generally make for economical meals. If you claim to be a brussels sprout hater, I do encourage you to try this recipe – Mark and I love these. Go to your farmer’s market and get some sprouts before the season passes.

Cooking them up is pretty simple, and employs my favorite quick sear/steam method that I picked up from Cook’s Illustrated – those folks know their veg. Garnished with a few grates of parmesan, this side dish is the perfect savory side dish.

Brussels Sprouts with Bacon
Serves 2

3 cups brussels sprouts, ends trimmed, outer leaves removed, and cut in half
3 slices of bacon, chopped
1 T reserved bacon fat
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1/3 cup water
1/2 tsp black pepper
fresh grated parmesan for garnish

  1. Heat a large skillet (that you have a lid for) over medium heat. Add the chopped bacon and cook until crisp. Scoop out the bacon and drain on a paper towel. Reserve 1 T of the bacon fat in the pan, and pour the rest of the bacon fat off into your bacon grease container in the fridge (you do save your bacon fat for future use, right?).
  2. Return the skillet to medium heat. When the pan is hot, swirl the pan to get a light sheen of fat over the whole surface. Pour the brussel sprouts into the pan, and turn them all so that they are cut-side down. Let them cook this way for exactly two minutes. Meanwhile, pour 1/3 cup warm water into a measuring cup and add the salt – stir to dissolve.
  3. After the 2 minutes are up, shake the pan to toss the sprouts around a bit. Pour in the salted water, and cover the pan. Cook for 2 more minutes. Then, uncover the pan, add in the garlic and cooked bacon, stir, and cook for 1 more minute, or until the sprouts are tender, but not mushy. Pour the sprouts out onto the plates and garnish with parmesan cheese.

236cal/serving, 140cal from fat, 14.5g fat, 5mg cholesterol, 710mg sodium, 16g carbs, 12.3g protein

Borlotti Beans with Andouille and Collard Greens

The photos of food seem to be piling up fast on my computer, without me having time to tell you about all of them…it’s a sad state of affairs, as we’ve had some very tasty meals lately. The early fall harvest season provides some of the best eating all year – we’ve still got plenty of summer berries and peaches at the market, plus the heartier fall veggies are starting to come in.

This week, our farm share contained a HUGE bunch of collard greens. I enjoy greens, but Mark is still a little more hesitant to declare his love for the heartier greens of fall, so I knew that I wanted to sneak them into a dish that he would otherwise be delighted to eat (ie: anything with bacon). Actually, Mark’s main complaint about collards and kale are that when cooked on their own, they cool rapidly on the plate, and he doesn’t like them when cool, which is a reasonable enough request. My beloved husband *never* complains about anything I cook, and happily eats pretty much anything, so I think I can work with him on his preference for warm greens.

This recipe takes a little planning ahead, since you’ve got to soak the beans the night before you plan to cook, but once everything is in the pot, it’s a pretty low-fuss dinner, and makes quite a lot, and is great leftover for lunch.

Borlotti Beans and Greens
Serves 7 as a main course, served over rice (about 1 cup of beans)

269 calories, 4.9g fat, 1.6 g sat fat, 15mg cholesteron, 540 mg sodium, 530mg potassium, 41g carbs, 15g fiber, 19g protein, 15% calcium, 17% iron
Rice: 200cal/cup, 44g carbs

1/2 lb Rancho Gordo Borlotti beans, soaked overnight
2 cups chicken stock
3 cups water
2 links Wellshire Farms Turkey Andouille sausage
2 slices bacon, chopped
1 T reserved bacon fat
1 onion, chopped
1 red bell pepper, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
3 bay leaves
red pepper flakes to taste
1 tsp smoked paprika
1/4 cup fresh oregano, minced (or 1 T dried)
1 bunch collard greens, washed, ribs removed, and cut into bite size pieces
salt & pepper to taste

Serve over rice

  1. Soak the beans overnight in a large bowl, covered by at least 4 inches of water.
  2. Cooking the beans: heat a heavy pot on the stove over medium heat. Slice the andouille into 1/3″ slices. Add the andouille to the pot and saute briefly, to brown. Remove the andouille and set aside. Add the chopped bacon to the now empty pot, and cook until moderately crisp. Remove the bacon with a slotted spoon set aside to drain on some paper towel. Pour off all but 1 T of bacon fat and return the pot to the heat.
  3. Add the onion and bell pepper and saute for 5 minutes or so, until the onions begin to soften. Add the oregano, paprika and garlic to the pot, and stir for another minute, until fragrant. Add the drained, soaked beans, chicken stock, water, red pepper flakes, bay leaves, bacon and andouille sausage. Stir, bring to a boil. Once boiling, reduce the heat to low, and simmer the beans uncovered for 1 1/2 – 2 hours, stirring occasionally, until the beans are meltingly tender, and the pot liquor thickens slightly. You want there to be some liquid left in the pot, but not watery. Season to taste with salt & pepper (a scant 1/2 tsp should do it.)
  4. Right before you’re ready to serve, fold in the chopped collard greens, stir, and simmer for another 15 minutes with the lid on to steam the greens. Serve over rice.

This dish is even better the next day, so if you plan ahead enough, skip adding the greens if you’ll be storing overnight in the fridge, and then just reheat and add the greens the next day, when you’re ready to serve.

International Bacon Day: BLT

Today is International Bacon Day. Did you know that? I didn’t either, until I logged into Twitter this morning, and @glutenfreechef notified me of this noble celebration of pig. So, it was my duty to work some bacon into our day, and we went with the classic BLT, with a twist. And I have to confess that this was my first BLT since going gluten-free seven years ago, and I don’t know why I waited so long, but I think I’ll be re-running this meal before the weekend is out.

I baked some basil-rosemary gluten-free bread on Friday from the wonderful Pamela’s bread mix. If you’re new to the gluten-free life, and missing your carbs, give Pamela’s mixes a try – you won’t feel sad about missing baked goods anymore. My gluten-eating husband will happily eat Pamela’s breads, and the dough takes very well to herby additions.

Gorgeous heirloom tomatoes and a bunch of arugula came in our CSA this week, and local bacon from Wisconsin was in the fridge – the B, L, and T were now accounted for. We added just a twist to the traditional BLT with the addition of a fried egg on the sandwich. As I devoured the sandwich, tomato juices ran down the outside of my hand – the classic sign of a BLT done right. Served with a couple ears of Michigan sweet corn, this was the perfect meal of summer. Now go out and celebrate International Bacon Day for yourself!

Smoky Tomato Pasta

It’s been a busy week for me, between a crazy week at work and having friends over for dinner a couple times this week, so I haven’t really produced much for the blog. Today, I awoke early to can 30lbs of tomatoes into stewed tomatoes and tomato sauce. I’m always amazed at how a HUGE box of tomatoes cooks down to a much smaller volume of tomato products.

Home canning isn’t really an economical enterprise in the city, given the produce prices and time invested, but I did my first canning projects last year, and using my own stewed tomatoes in soups cannot be beat! Homeade stewed tomatoes have SO much more flavor than what you’d buy in a can. I got 8 quarts of stewed tomatoes and 5 pints of tomato sauce out of the 30lbs of tomatoes. Now, I’m just sitting around waiting to hear the magical popping sound of the cans as they seal – it’s the most nerve-wracking part of the process!

Thursday evening, I was supposed to go out to a movie with friends, but given that my workday started at 6am with the Making Strides Against Breast Cancer Kickoff Breakfast, and I didn’t sleep well the night before, I decided that I wasn’t up to movie-going, and needed a night to chill at home. So, I looked around the kitchen to see what I could whip up quickly, and came up with this simple, smoky pasta….it was just the comfort food I needed after a long day. The smoky bacon and cheese played off the acidic tomatoes perfectly. A bowl of pasta and a glass of wine enjoyed on the balcony were just the antidote I needed to unwind after a long day.

Smoky Tomato Pasta

Serves 1

600 calories per serving, 23g fat, 74g carbs

2 slices bacon, chopped, cooked and 1tsp fat reserved
3 oz Tinkyada brown rice pasta shells
1/2 cup sliced white onion
1 clove garlic, minced
1 oz grated, Goat Smoked Cheddar Cheese
1 cup cherry tomatoes, sliced in half
1 tsp fresh thyme, minced
salt & pepper to taste

  1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook the rice pasta according to the directions – Tinkyada can take 12-14 minutes to cook through. While the pasta cooks, assemble the sauce.
  2. Chop the bacon and saute in a small pan until mostly crisp. Scoop out the bacon and drain on a piece of paper towel an set aside. Pour off most of the fat, but leave 1tsp in the pan.
  3. Add the onions to the bacon fat and saute for 2-3 minutes until they begin to soften. When the pasta is about 3 minutes from being done, add the garlic to the onions and saute for 1 more minute. Add the thyme and sliced tomatoes, and saute for 1 more minute, until the tomatoes begin to wilt a bit.
  4. Drain the pasta and fold it into the tomato sauce. Sprinkle with the grated goat cheddar and toss to combine, adjusting seasoning if needed.

Smoky Corn & Bacon Chowder

Whitney in Chicago
made my day today. Around lunchtime, she posted to twitter about a new blog post with her recipe for corn and bacon chowder. The rest, as they say, is history. I ran across the street to the Prudential Plaza farmer’s market and picked up some celery and chives to go in the soup. I had some peppered Neuske’s bacon at home in the fridge, along with a few ears of corn and some german butterball potatoes from Nichol’s Farm.

Local, wild celery is crunchy mid-summer treat, and if you’ve never purchased celery from a local farmer – try it soon, while it’s still in season. Local celery has an intensity of flavor that the stuff you buy in plastic bag will never have. And the leaves of celery are also a nice addition to soups and stocks, to add another layer of celery goodness.

I changed up Whitney’s recipe just a bit – using corn flour instead of wheat flour, chipotle puree instead of chipotle powder, and omitting the greek yogurt garnish, to keep it dairy-free. The finished soup is spectacular. The smoky spice of the chipotles and bacon plays perfectly against the sweetness of the corn, and the burst of acidity from a few spoonfuls of diced sungold cherry tomatoes. This is the perfect soup of summer, and I think we’ll have a few more pots of this gem before the sweet corn season passes.

Smoky Sweet Corn & Bacon Chowder
Serves 7 (if you don’t eat two bowls, which is hard resist)

4 ounces of bacon, (about 5 slices) diced
1 large onion, diced
5 celery ribs, diced
1/2 tsp thyme
1/2 tsp oregano
1/2 tsp basil
1/2 cup minced celery leaves (optional – if your celery doesn’t have leaves, don’t worry about it)
1 tsp smoked paprika
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp chipotle puree
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp fresh-cracked black pepper
3 medium-sized potatoes, cubed
3 tablespoons corn flour (if you’re not gluten-free, just use regular flour)
4 cups chicken stock
1 cup of water
4 ears of corn, kernels cut off the cob – reserve a couple of the cobs

minced chives
a few crumbles of bacon
diced cherry tomatoes

  1. Saute the bacon in a large soup pot until mostly crisp. Remove the bacon with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towel and set aside. Drain all but 1 tablespoon bacon drippings from the pot (save in a jar to stash in the fridge). Return the pot to the stove, turn the heat up to medium. Add the onion, celery and stir to coat the vegetables with the oil. Cook until onions are translucent, and begin to soften – about 5 minutes. Add the potatoes and cook another five minutes, until the potatoes have just begun to soften. Add all of the herbs to the pot, and stir. Turn the heat down to low and sprinkle the corn flour over the vegetables. Stir and cook for 5 more minutes.
  2. Add the chicken stock, chipotle puree and water. Add all but 1 tablespoon of the bacon to the soup. Next, stir in the corn kernels. Finally, add the reserved corn cobs to the soup (which will help flavor and thicken the broth). Bring the soup to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer, covered, for 30 minutes.
  3. Before serving, remove the corn cobs, taste, and adjust the seasoning of the soup, adding a bit more salt if necessary. Garnish each bowl with the reserved bacon, minced chives and a spoonful of diced cherry tomatoes.

Gluten Free Pizza

Mark and I had a wonderful Christmas with our families in Michigan, full of good time with parents, cousins, lots of kiddos, and WAY too much food. My body was more than ready to get back to more “normal” eating upon arriving back in Chicago yesterday.

However, while we were in Michigan, Mom and I got out and about to run a few errands – stocking up on local apples and cider to bring back to the city and we stopped by a little convenience store my parents have been going to as long as I can remember. Remember Towne Club sodas? When we were kids, Mom and Dad would treat us with a couple of bottles from this shop when we were out visiting Grandma and Grandpa. I still remember the wood flat racks holding the colorful bottles of sugary soda (though living in MI, we always called it “pop” – in Chicago, we’re soda people). Anyway, the whole point of this tangent is that we walked into the shop, which also boasts a small pizza operation, and the smell of delicious pizza almost knocked me over. I knew that I would have to whip up some gluten-free pizza soon.

So tonight, gluten-free pizza was on the menu, courtesy of Bob’s Red Mill. Bob makes some very fine mixes, and this one is no different. Most GF pizza mixes seem to be mostly potato starch and white rice flour, which is fine, but lacks a bit in toothiness and texture. Bob throws in some millet and sorghum flours, and the resulting crust is chewy and crisp, and makes for an excellent pizza.

I won’t post the recipe here, as I pretty much follow the recipe on the back of the bag, but my #1 tip for rolling out GF doughs is to roll it between two sheets of oiled parchment. GF pizza dough is much wetter and stickier than wheat dough, and parchment paper makes rolling the dough out a snap. I also bake my pizzas on a pre-heated pizza stone, so that the bottom gets nice and crisp. What you put on the pizza is up to you. Our pizza was topped with homeade tomato sauce, onion, bacon, ham and goat mozzarella. And it was completely delicious.

Bacon Egg Slurry

This is not fancy food…it’s simple fare for a weeknight, when all you feel you can manage is slicing a little cabbage and onion. Though it is a humble dish, it is a favorite in our home. When I went gluten-free, one of the things I missed most was my favorite Saturday morning breakfast – two over-easy eggs, and toast to sop up all the gorgeous yolk…I missed that ritual.

It wasn’t until a year or so ago that I discovered the wonders of cabbage, and that sauteed with some onion and bacon and lots of pepper – it was the prefect vehicle for fried eggs. It’s a quick meal – about 20 minutes from slicing to eating, and budget friendly. And isn’t everything better with bacon?!

Bacon Egg Slurry
Serves 3 as a main dish

5 cups finely shredded cabbage (half a large head)
1 onion, sliced
3 cloves garlic, minced
4 slices bacon, sliced into small pieces (optional)
1 T butter or olive oil
1 cup leftover wild rice or brown rice (optional)
salt & pepper
Optional: siracha hot sauce or chipotle en adobo puree

  1. Cook sliced bacon in a pan until semi-crisp. Set aside and drain on paper towel. Heat a large non-stick pan over medium heat, add butter and melt.
  2. Add cabbage, onion and garlic to the pan, toss to coat in the butter. Add 1/2 tsp salt and saute for 5-7 minutes, stirring often, until cabbage begins to wilt. Add bacon, rice and pepper to taste. Continue cooking until cabbage is just on the other side of al dente and beginning to soften. Serve with over-easy eggs.
  3. Hot & Spicy Option: In the last couple minutes of sauteeing the cabbage, add a dollop of siracha or chipotle puree to the pan and stir in.