Category Archives: BACON

MOM’S PARTY BAKED BEANS

Memories make foods taste better, that’s a fact.  Case in point are these simple baked beans that my late mom used to parade out for BBQ’s in the Summer and special occasions where she was the “caterer”.  Now before you go getting food snob on me I must tell you that these are made with canned beans.  If that offends you..this is not your recipe.  HOWEVER I will tell you that they are fantastic and unless your tastebuds just do not care for American baked bean dishes, you HAVE to make a tray of these.  Delicious and addictive.  Now truth be told it’s not EXACT to my Mom’s.  It’s close.  My Food Snobbery actually embellishes the dish without recipe OVERKILL.  I think Mom would be proud, happy, and like them. Basically I don’t add anything different then she did, but I add more of a few things.  Now keep reading and you’ll find out.  Back in May for Memorial Day my sister Liza made them.  I saw the pan and of course got a lump in my throat wishing my Mom was in the kitchen with us.  “These are Mommy’s party and BBQ in the back yard cabana (it was a screened in porch deal) Baked Beans aren’t they?” My sister replied, yes they are.  They had that deep rich color with the bacon top that Mom’s did. Unmistakably these were Mom’s.  For some reason, you don’t make these for just a  nightly dinner.  Instead they are festive…party buffet food…Summer BBQ in the backyard food.  I’m sure there are foods/dishes that you all love that remind you of a now gone loved one and memories of good times.  In my very ItalianAmerican home this version of American Baked Beans meant a good time or big party was happening.  Oh, I also changed the brand of beans, Mom used Campbells..most available, most popular.  This was in the pre Bush’s Beans days… B & M was the most expensive competition. My wife LOVES B & M so for a family party last week I made a tray using the B & M beans.  So I’m not straying from her formula..too much.  AND here’s the proof..my sisters saw them and said …”AHHH MOM’S!!”  Then confirm too (as if my own tastebuds are not the last word  LOL), my 46 year old nephew PROCLAIMED, “Wow, Grandma’s Baked Beans..it’s been too long..Spot on Uncle Pete”.. Just an FYI, when Mom made REAL BAKED BEANS, not for parties or BBQ, she’d soak the dry beans and layer them with salt pork and other ingrdients and in a New England Bean Pot, covered into the oven they’d go for hours.  That’s a different dish of hers.    OK, let’s cook.

 

MOM’S “PARTY” OR BBQ BAKED BEANS

TIME: 2 hours                   SERVES: 8-10

12 STRIPS OF BACON

1 MEDIUM VIDALIA ONION (SWEET) DICED

2 28 oz CANS B & M BAKED BEANS (no, i’m not getting sponsored here, it’s what I use, so….if you like use any other 28 oz cans of beans)

2 TBS BROWN MUSTARD

1/4 cup KETCHUP

1/8 CUP BROWN SUGAR

1 TBS MOLASSES

1/2 TSP TABASCO SAUCE

1 TSP WORCHESTERSHIRE SAUCE

2 TSP REAL MAPLE SYRUP

Start by pre heating your oven to 300 degrees F.   Dice 5 slices of the bacon and in a cast iron or heavy pan, saute’ the bacon on medium heat.  When you see bacon grease rendering into the pan then add the onions.  Stir well to make sure the bacon grease is on all the onion.  Let this slowly cook until the bacon is just about to the crisp stage and the onions are soft. Takes at least 15 minutes, more or less.

Remove from the heat when it looks like that picture above and drain off all that residual bacon fat.  Let it rest.  In a bowl or simply the baking pan you’re going to use add everything else except the remaining bacon strips and blend well.  THEN fold in the bacon/onion mixture.  Top with the bacon strips.    

Now into the oven for 1 1/2 hours.  TIP: place the pan on a sheet pan.  JUST in case there’s bubbling and spillage, this tomato and sugar and bacon blend will make a nasty mess if it hits the bottom of your oven. The sheet pan is insurance.  Pay your premium!!

When the pan looks like the picture below, you are done.  Resist the urge to move it along with a higher oven temp. Your BAKING the beans. They will taste and feel different than if you simple heat them up out of the can.

Let the hot beans sit for 15 minutes at least before serving.  Now, here’s one of my ALL TIME FAVORITE things to eat.  See those bacon strips?  They are ridiculously amazing…is that even proper grammar?  I don’t care.  It’s amazing. Make sure you sneak a few before the rest of the diners get to dig in.  You made it, you deserve it.  I can probably show you when my Mom used to slap my hand when she’d catch me lifting a strip before they were served.  My sister and I would always fight over them.  If you notice in the ingredient list there is no SALT or PEPPER  added.  Why? You are using canned beans in tomato sauce cooked with Pork, salt, seasonings, etc.  You are using bacon which releases salt into the baking beans.  Ketchup, mustard,Worchestershire all have salt so DO NOT ADD ANY MORE TO THIS DISH.  The sweet caramelizing of the dish balances the salty in it..IT’S FANTASTIC. Maybe because it’s a direct link to MOM? or simply because it just tastes that good?? I conclude, it’s both.  Happy Cooking.

 

 

 

POTATOES O’BRIEN…IRISH-AMERICAN RESTAURANT FOOD

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I appreciate the potato only as a protection against famine; except for that I know of nothing more eminently tasteless.Jean-Anthelme Brillat-Savarin

Hmmm…while Brillat-Savarin is one of the culinary world’s historical icons, his view of the potato was pretty low.  Don’t always follow everything an expert tells you is the message to be learned here!  Is there any food that you could possibly think of that is more deliciously nutritious, universally loved, accessible to all, and easier to cook into more recipes than there are days in the year?  A native of the Americas, this potato is grown all over the world and factors in every cuisine.  That’s quite unique to most foods so I like to give it a little praise when I can, sorry Brillat-Savarin,  you’re wrong on this one. Today we will talk about a favorite Potato dish of mine, POTATOES O’BRIEN.  Google it.  There are thousands of recipes and stories about it.  Let’s get to the heart of this delicious American dish, starting with…point of origin.  It’s a  story lost in the annals of American food history.  Could be Boston.  Might be New York City.  Most legends name Manhattan as the point of invention so I’ll run with that premise.

The dish is not Irish but does work well into an IrishAmerican St.Patrick’s Dinner, or any time of the year since a restaurant cook nicknamed “BEEFSTEW  O’Brien” is said to have created it in the late 1800’s at a Manhattan restaurant he worked in.  Legend states that he was tired of serving the all brown HASH BROWNED POTATO and decided to throw in some BLING for color and additional flavor.  Green Bell Peppers and Pimentos along with onions were tossed in the skillet with the browning potatoes, cooking in bacon grease.  Sidebar here…animal fat creates the best crisp texture and color in a fried potato…think fries cooked in duck fat..lush, crisp, fantastic.  But, go one step further, and add some diced bacon to this dish.  Now we are talking.  OK, note to my vegan and vegetarian readers…remove the bacon and bacon fat from this dish and using a vegetable or coconut oil you can create a wonderful meatless O’Brien.  See, Potatoes are for everyone!

This potato dish is quite versatile as well, perfect as a breakfast, brunch, lunch, or dinner menu item.  Make it when the mood strikes and it works great for outdoor grill/bbq meals, with meat, vegetables, or seafoods.

TIME: 1 hour                           SERVES: 4

3 tbs. bacon fat or vegetable oil
1/8 cup diced  bacon (optional, but WAY better when added)
1 12 lb. boiled and cooled  potatoes, cut small cubes or chunks
1 small onion, DICED
1 green bell pepper, cored, seeded, DICED
1 red bell pepper, cored, seeded, DICED
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper seasoned to taste
2 tbsp. chopped flat-leaf parsley
Heat 2 tbs.bacon fat in a heavy skillet, preferably cast iron for nice heat conductivity. Add the diced bacon and let this take on some color.  Give this at least 5 minutes. Now add the onions and peppers, season with salt and pepper, and let them cook till soft, about 10 minutes.  With a slotted spoon remove the bacon, pepper, onion from the pan and reserve in a bowl.   Add the last tbs. of bacon fat to the pan and when it is hot again over a medium flame/heat toss in the potatoes, season with salt and pepper and LEAVE THEM ALONE for at least 8 minutes.  Now give the pan a gentle shake, with a spatula turn the potatoes over and let them brown an additional 8 minutes on the other side. Don’t panic..not an exact process, you are just trying to get a nice crust on all sides of the potatoes best as you can. Now add the bacon, onion, and peppers gently into the pan and mix with the potatoes and sort of press the whole thing down into the pan with your spatula without smashing the potatoes. Let this cook for 5 minutes. Turn onto a serving plate and garnish with the parsley, and a light seasoning of salt and pepper.  Done. It’s amazing…
    Want an eye catching dish?  fry or poach a few eggs and top them on the finished Potatoes.  I think we are doing Beefstew O’Brien’s dish justice here.  Happy Cooking!!  BTW, some full disclosure here..the day I took this picture, there was no parsley (shocking) and green pepper in the house, so, that’s why the picture is missing the GREEN.  Just imagine it’s there, work with me here…LOL.

 

SWEET N SOUR RETRO MEATBALLS…MEMORIES FROM MOM

newyears16 001  The hardest blogpost to compose is the first one of the year.  So many are  profound, dripping with sweet sentiments, hopes for the year ahead…so, after a day of getting stressed for absolutely nothing the idea came to me.  It’s New Year’s but blog a recipe that is “non-holiday specific” but works well for New Year’s Eve.  How do I know that?  I know that because my Mom used to make this, a close version to the one I make every New Year’s that we were home.  She also made it for all of her and Dad’s cocktail parties  before their VFW dinner-dances and affairs back in the 60’s and 70’s.  This whole recipe is RIGHT out of a MadMen script.  I’ve A FOOD OBSESSIONED it up a bit, leaving some of Mom’s RETRO ingredients right where they should be.  They cannot be changed.  They are the underlying taste of this recipe.  I’ve made this with fresh pineapple and mandarins. Omitted the Maraschino Cherries. What made the dish so….MOM…and wonderful was gone.  So I went back to the original canned Pineapples, in their own juice…Maraschino Cherries with that almondy cherry taste…and the unique taste of the canned mandarin.  I did change the size of the red peppers in the sauce…Mom’s were a chop..too much pepper.  I fine dice so they basically add flavor without getting in the way.  I am thinking like the amateur food historian I think I am (I said I THINK I AM, lol) and i’m going to say the genesis of this type of meatball recipe comes from that late 50’s early 60’s fascination with the American notion of POLYNESIAN culture..  Trader Vic’s, Hawaii Kai…these were trend setting restaurants from San Francisco to New York City.  “Exotic” ingredients like soy sauce, sesame oil, curries were being mixed into typical American bar foods, like meatballs and chicken on sticks, Beef on sticks.  Truth be told nothing in the Polynesian food culture ever was this sweet or sour at the same time.  Add a Pineapple to your cooking, you were soooo Polynesian.  Stick some palm trees and the hanging monkeys on your drinks with some umbrellas, that was 60’s retro “Oriental-Polynesian” food and drink to us on the mainland unless you were of Polynesian or other Asian extraction.  Then you knew better but fed Americans these sweet and sour concoctions at the eateries, but maintained your real food culture at home.  Today we live in a much better time to be eating…we know the difference and we appreciate both versions when done right.  Sweet and Sour meatballs to many mean Ketchup and Grape Jelly in the crockpot with a simple seasoned meatball.  Let me take you to BALI HAI…to BORA BORA…to RARITONGA….thru the eyes of the 60’s…vv6 Some memorabilia from those days..from the Trader Vic website.  The American-Polynesian cuisine was full of fruity syrups and tastes.  Trader Vic sold a sweet and sour style meatball in their restaurants.  I was fortunate to have been to a few before they changed or closed.  Mai Tai anyone??   Let’s travel from a Trader Vic or Hawaii Kai into my kitchen with my Mom watching us recreate one of her “specialities”!  Trader Vic’s may have called them PUPU meatballs…PUPU signifying an appetizer.  You can make these as a PUPU or as a main dish. over fluffy steamed Jasmine rice with a bit of chopped cilantro in the rice.

 

MAKES: 36 or so MEATBALLS                    time: 1 1/2 hours

 

MEATBALLS:
    • 1 1/2 lbs  ground beef and  ground pork blended together
    • 2 large eggs, beaten
    • ½ cup PANKO breadcrumbs
    • 1/2 teaspoon salt
    • 1 tsp. Sri Lankan or Madras Curry
    • 1 tsp Sesame Oil
    • 3 diced strips of  bacon and 1 medium onion, diced, sauteed till the bacon is cooked and the onion is soft
    • 1 ½ teaspoon Soy Sauce
    • 1 finely minced garlic clove
    • 1/4 tsp. ground cloves
    • 1/4 tsp. ground ginger
    • 1/2 tsp. sambal olek or ground chile garlic paste
    • 1/2 can drained crushed pineapple
    • flour for dusting
Sauce:
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1 tsp. sesame oil
  • 3 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 2 (14 0z) cans of crushed pineapple (less 1/2 cup of the drained for the meatballs above)
  • 1 can Mandarin Oranges
  • 2 tsp. finely minced red peppers
  • 1/8 cup Rice Wine Vinegar
  • 3 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 1/8 cup ketchup
  • 1 (14 oz) can pineapple tidbits
  • 1/8 small bottle of maraschino cherry juice plus 10 cherries
  • pinch of cloves, nutmeg, ginger

First let’s dice that bacon and onion.  In a large skillet cook them down until the onions are soft and the bacon is cooked and add the sesame oil. Now add the breadcrumbs and let them soak those bacon drippings and get a little toasty. Add the garlic. remove from heat. Let this cool.  Now add the dry spices and blend well.  In a large bowl add the eggs. Then the breadcrumb mixture and the pineapple.  Mix.  Then add the meat and work until it’s a homogeneous mixture.  Form into about 36 walnut sized balls, you may get more. Then roll in flour.  Fry them in a lightly oiled non stick pan till browned on all sides.12459533_10205459127099976_1330698243_n  Cook the meatballs in batches as you need room between them all so they don’t STEAM. STEAMING is not an optimum cooking method for meatballs.  Keep the meatballs on a platter, lightly covered with foil while you are cooking the balance of them.  Done?  Good.  Time to make the aromatic sauce.  In a saucepan, gently heat all the ingredients except the cornstarch.  Bring this to a boil, REDUCE to a simmer.  In a bowl whisk together about 1 ladle of the simmering sauce and while whisking slowly add the cornstarch until it’s smooth.. Then while stirring the sauce with a whisk slowly pour in the cornstarch and lightly whisk till blended.  Bring to a slow boil and then stir and lower to a simmer.  Keep stirring until the sauce is thickened.  Now Add the meatballs to the sauce, or place them in a baking dish and pour the sauce over them.  Let this cool down and then tightly wrap and refrigerate when totally cooled down overnight.  You can reheat them in the oven, at 350 Degrees F covered for 25 minutes.  Or into a crockpot to keep warm.   Or on the stove pot, just stir them gently.  Your finished product will look like this: 001 How good does that look?? Like 1965?? I think this will change your mind from the frozen bags of meatballs heated thru in a ketchup and grape jelly sauce.  I’m not knocking that..but I think this recipe will make you happy.

 

 

A BASIC MEATLOAF RECIPE WITH AMAZING FLAVOR

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Meatloaf has a love/hate relationship with many.  I find to many haytas and I know Haytas gotta hate but I’m going to try and change that.  Those same types generally love burgers and meatballs so, really, it’s not much of a stretch to jump to meatloafing from there.  Want to try this recipe out?  Good..and while I’m at it..this is not MY only meatloaf recipe.  Meatloaf is a “stretch” recipe..it allows the cook to use bits and pieces of what’s ever leftover or some less expensive ground meat (not so less expensive anymore) and stretch it into a filling tasty (TASTY I SAID!) meal.  Now the meatloaves I’ve not been to happy with simply are missing lots of ingredients.  For some reason this dish benefits from the use of many different condiments, vegetables and meats along with spices and aromatics to bring it to the table.  As with much of my cooking it’s past experience from where I start my constructing my own version and this has it’s roots in my Mom’s meatloaf of this type.  She made a few different ones, even the Polpettone (the Italian meatloaf) but this was her typical “American” one.  Ketchup, Mustard, Bacon, Onions, Worchestershire Sauce.  They turned it into something special.  Lots of Shredded cheddar and pecorino too.  Ok, Pecorino, NOT at all American, but work with me here, it becomes a flavor carrier.  That’s what you need.  Too many meatloaves are 3 or 4 ingredient ones with nothing to remember each bite by.  I need memorable.  I need flavors that intensify so the next day I can make a cold Meatloaf sandwich with or without Ketchup or BBQ Sauce. Up to you. Bacon is integral to this on the inside and the outside.  Like Meatloaf’s refined French cousin, the Terrine, larding with bacon (wrapping it) is beneficial in terms of moisture and flavor.  And who doesn’t like bacon????  OK, I know some of you don’t, you’ll just have to sit this one out.

 

SERVES: 6               TIME: 1 .75 hours

1 1/2 mixed ground BEEF, PORK, VEAL  (or if you prefer just Beef, use Chuck or up to 85% lean ground beef. Anything leaner the loaf is dry.)

1/2 tsp. salt

1/2 tsp ground black pepper

2 beaten eggs

1/8 cup rolled oats

3 torn slices of bread, white or whole wheat, soaked in a little milk, then gently squeeze the milk out

1 1/2 tbs. Worchestershire Sauce

1/8 cup Ketchup

2 tbs. Mustard, truthfully, I like Yellow for this, feel free to use Brown, Dijon is not the right family for this relative. Yes, it’s mustard and I love it, but not in this particular meatloaf.

1 tsp. Sriracha or Tabasco

2 tbs. chopped fresh thyme

1 fine diced onion, SAUTEED till soft with 4 chopped strips of Bacon (smoked USA style).  When the onions and bacon are done, takes about 15 minutes, remove from the flame and let rest for 10 minutes.

2 tsps. grated Pecorino Romano

1/8 cup shredded SHARP Yellow Cheddar cheese

6 additional strips of raw bacon

a glaze made out of 1/3 cup Ketchup, 2 tbs. mustard, 1 tbs. Maple Syrup (the real stuff, not Log Cabin)

1 tsp. Sriracha or Hot Sauce

Mix all the ingredients into a bowl except the bacon strips and glaze.  Blend Well.  Lightly grease a loaf pan and press the mix into the loaf.  Pre heat the oven to 350 degrees F. Place the loaf pan on a sturdy baking sheet.  Coat the top with a layer of the glaze.  Top that with the bacon strips.  Bake for at least 45 minutes.  Insert a knife blade into the center, if it comes out clean you are done, if not, cook an additional 10-15 minutes.  LET THE MEATLOAF REST FOR AT LEAST 15 MINUTES AFTER IT’S COME OUT OF THE OVEN.  Then slice and serve with some of that glaze over the top.  TRY IT YOU’LL LIKE IT!!  only you will not need any Alka Seltzer after eating this.  Notice not much salt in the recipe..well there is, in the ketchup, Worchestershire, Mustard, cheese. So do not over salt this.

 

BACON, APPLE, AND CHEDDAR STUFFING..FALL COOKING SEASON HAS BEGUN

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThere are some pairings and combos that are truly meant for each other.  Let’s start with BACON. I don’t agree it goes with everything.  There, I’ve said it and I’m not taking it back.  i LOVE Bacon..especially American bacon with it’s pork belly fat and smokey goodness.   It really needs to either shine in a dish or on it’s own, or be part of a bigger picture..lofty ambitions for sure especially when I ‘m talking about bread stuffing.  Here’s the thing, and I love simple as well as the fussed..but some American stuffings are terribly bland.  Bump up one ingredient on that list you’ve got something but mushy bread is not a great idea on it’s own.  Here’s my other lecture with regards to this post, this is not my only stuffing, in fact, i hardly ever make a stuffing the same way twice.  So there you go! Basically for Thanksgiving I will make the same stuffing which is a mixture of my own ideas with my Mom’s t-day stuffing.  I use what’s hanging around the kitchen and last night i made some Roasted Chicken halves that were brined in Apple Cider (my favorite Fall ingredient) and roasted along with some Chicken stock.  The stuffing I do in a separate dish, i just like that better, certainly you can always stuff the bird.  No right or wrong. I hate when people feel they need to be slaves to ONE recipe for a type of food..like stuffing.  It’s waiting for you to personalize it!!! Well my little “Chopped” experience, which is basically how I cook started with some stale bread, just natural whole grain white bread sitting on the counter.  Opening the fridge revealed some natural (unsweetened ) apple sauce, and an open bag of shredded sharp cheddar, next to the bacon.  In that moment the recipe developed.  Knowing basics about what really goes well with other ingredients is the building block for me, for any recipe.  Bacon, Apple, and Cheddar all compliment each other.  Can you say TASTES LIKE FALL and not have a combo like that as part of what you are thinking?  I can’t.  Stuffing is the perfect way to deliver these tastes that combine into a buttery, comforting stuffing that will compliment your roast poultry or pork dishes.  Add this to your recipe files as another idea for your stuffings.

MAKES:   4 servings                           TIME: 1 hour

The servings are a “strange” idea because stuffing is usually a spoonful while you are loading your plate up with other sides and the main.  By 4 servings I mean enough for 4 people to have a nice sized portion so use your head here, the more food you are serving doesn’t mean you need more stuffing..however..it’s so good, you may want leftovers, just saying.

1/2 lb chopped BACON (SMOKED)

1 large ONION, small diced

1 cup fine diced CELERY

10 slices of good stale white BREAD  that you’ve torn into pieces or 14 oz. of a cornbread or mixed bread stuffing (the cubes).  Feel free to use a whole wheat if you like.

1/4 cup unsweetened APPLESAUCE

1 tsp. fresh chopped Thyme

1/2 tsp. BELL’S SEASONING (http://www.bellsseasonings.com/BellsSeasoning.html)or 1/4 tsp Poultry seasoning

1/4 stick UNSALTED BUTTER

1/4 cup CHICKEN STOCK(WARM)

1/8 CUP APPLE CIDER (filtered and unsweetened)

1/2 tsp freshly ground BLACK PEPPER

1/4 tsp. KOSHER SALT

1/2 tsp. YELLOW MUSTARD

1/4 cup Shreddded SHARP CHEDDAR

1 tsp UNSALTED BUTTER CUT IN CUBES

In a large skillet/pan heat on medium and add the bacon and let it start to render it’s fat.  Once is starts to crisp up a bit, add 1/2 of the butter and let it melt.  Now add the celery and onions and let this cook on low until the vegetables are soft.  Add the cider and stock and bring to a boil.  Add the thyme.  Let this cook for 3-4 minutes and then add the bread and mix well until it’s a pasty consitency, all hydrated.  Cook stirring for 2 minutes.  Remove from heat.  Into this add the salt, pepper, mustard, Bell’s Seasoning, Applesauce..Blend.  When all is nicely mixed in add the cheese folding it in gently.  Pour this into a baking pan, I use cake pans.  Smooth it down and place the cubes of unsalted butter over the top.  Bake in a preheated OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA 350 degree F oven for 25 minutes or until it looks like that picture.  Nice and golden.  Remove from the oven and serve with the meal.  If there are any drippings from the poultry, pour some of that over the top too.  Adds more flavor.

Stuffing (dressing in some parts) is an American Classic that for me has no peer.  I may have more ideas for you as the Fall progresses, let’s start with this one. Who doesn’t love BACON???  By the way, the mean was amazing…OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

I like it richly flavored, certainly, you can alternatively cook the bacon separately and discard most of that fat, just in case that’s your preference, then continue with the rest of the recipe.

SIMPLE PLEASURES, LENTIL SOUP WITH PANCETTA (ITALIAN CURED BACON)

008 A complete meal in a bowl, how nice is that?  A steaming bowl of Lentil Soup for me is about the most reassuring food that says “all is right with the world”, basically it’s a big hug from someone that loves you.  The humble lentil is one of nature’s powerhouses ( i hate the term superfood because it conjures up fads in food and I don’t buy into that) in terms of nutrition.  Not going to bore you with that type of post but seriously if your body needs a great punch of nutrients this bowl is just the thing.  Lentils are not an Italian exclusive, they are eaten in every part of the world where they are grown because they are plentiful, cheap and so good for you.  All that aside let’s talk their taste, it’s unique and it’s delicious and LOVES to soak up the flavors of whatever other ingredients you are cooking with.  No shocker here but I’m going to give  you my recipe for an Italian   bowl of LENTILS.  This version is made with a base of vegetables, aromatics and PANCETTA.  Pancetta is an UNSMOKED cured Italian BACON. Highlighting UNSMOKED.  Can you make a lentil soup with smoked bacon?  Of course, in fact Lentils seem to really pop when you cook them with any pork, whether it be Chorizo, Italian Sausage, Salumi, Guanciale, American or other types of Smoked Bacon, ham,  so do not read my comments as saying the other meats are wrong..but for that gorgeous pot of lentils I made in the picture above I used PANCETTA.  For those wishing for this with no meat at all increase your aromatics, herbs, onions, etc. for extra flavor.  Unseasoned lentils for me just not worth my time but seasoning with meats or vegetables and herbs makes them shine.  Back to this post though, find the pancetta and maybe this could be your first time using it…how awesome is that when you open yourself up to something new!!

In this very active and vivid memory bank of mine I equate the aroma of lentils cooking with coming home from school in Staten Island NYC to my Mom making a nice big pot..while outside the day is dark, grey, rainy, cold, raw the mere whiff of the lentils was like two big arms wrapping themselves around me, warming me from the inside out and knowing that I’m ok.  Amazing was the taste and smell of certain foods will do, and no, I’m not going to quote the French guy with the little dessert cake here, that quote is as overdone as  a dry roast chicken breast.

SERVES: 6                                             TIME: 1 hour

2 tablespoons EXTRA VIRGIN OLIVE OIL
1/2 lb PANCETTA, finely diced
1 large ONION , diced
2 stalks CELERY with leaves attached, diced
1 large CARROT peeled, chopped in to small cuts
1/2 tsp crumbled dried OREGANO

1 cup canned ITALIAN TOMATOES (in this dish the choice of regular Italian plums or San Marzano is up to you), crushed with your hands

1 cup baby SPINACH LEAVES

2 cups brown LENTILS, rinsed in a colander under cold water
4 cups WATER
1 Tbs. KOSHER SALT
pinch of PEPERONCINO
2 rinds of PARMIGIANO-REGGIANO

In a dutch oven or wide pot, heat the olive oil adding the pancetta.  Cook for about 4 minutes as it takes on some color then add the oregano, the onions, the peperoncino, the celery, and the carrots.  Add a pinch of salt and let this cook for a good 10 minutes until all the vegetables have softened up to an al dente state. Critical when making dishes like this to test the vegetables or they will remain sort of raw or too crisp in the final dish.  Just sayin.  Now add the tomato and let this come to a boil. Then add the water and the lentils, cheese rinds and salt.Bring it all to a boil then down to a medium simmer.  Let this cook until it’s thickened, stirring frequently.  It should take about 45 minutes.  When the soup is done check for seasoning and adjust accordingly.  I prefer a “drier” Lentil soup which is the consistency you see in the picture.  At this time add the spinach.  Let those tender baby leaves just melt into the pot.

When serving, remove the cheese rinds, and in each bowl garnish it with grated Parmigiano or Pecorino and a drizzle of EVOO and a pinch of peperoncino.

What prompted me to blog this dish of mine was a lentil soup with pancetta I had a few nights ago at a Pop up Dinner held by Gabriele Corcos of the TV show EXTRA VIRGIN on Cooking Channel.  I’ll be blogging about that dinner in the future but here is his bowl of lentil soup with Pancetta that we enjoyed:300823_2102887454155_1304531591_31828500_690752139_n

 

It was delicious!  You can’t go wrong with this soup.  Have fun making it and sharing the love.