Bacon: Is There Anything It Can't Do?

Prior to SteelyKid's arrival, the "Pasta with Butter, Sage, and Parmesan" recipe from Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything had become one of our staple recipes. It's dead simple to make, we always have the stuff on hand (I've been planting sage in pots outside for the last couple of years), and it's very tasty.

Unfortunately, SteelyKid reacts badly to dairy, even when Kate's the one eating the dairy. So, parmesan is right out, along with many, many other favorite foods. In an effort to preserve the sanity of the adults in the house, I've been trying to find ways to expand our repertoire of entrees, and kept trying to think of some replacement for that dish. It's easy to get part of the way there-- you can replace the butter with olive oil, and keep the sage-- but finding a substitute for the parmesan is tough.

The solution (or a solution, anyway) turns out to be bacon. Here's the fairly successful improvised recipe from the other night:

8oz. thick cut bacon, cut into small pieces

1 smallish zucchini, diced

1 smallish yellow squash, diced

0.5 cup olive oil

1 handful sage, chopped fine

1 lb pasta (I used spaghetti rigate, because that's what I happened to grab at the store)

Put a big pot of water on to boil.

Fry the bacon in a pan over medium-high heat until the desired crispness is reached (5-10 minutes). Remove it from the pan, and let it dry on paper towels.

Fry the vegetables in the fat from the bacon until done (about 5 minutes). Remove them from the pan, and toss with the bacon.

Dump out the bacon fat, and replace with oilve oil and sage. Heat over low heat while the pasta is cooking.

When the pasta is done, mix the bacon and squash with the oil and sage, and toss the whole mess with the pasta. Serve immediately.

This was pretty much a shot in the dark, but it came out really well. It's a little more involved than the Bittman recipe, but pasta with just bacon and oil would be really weird. Squash and zucchini have proven to be safe vegetables, and don't have a huge amount of flavor on their own, so I figured why not?

I suppose if you were feeling weirdly health conscious, you could fry the vegetables in something other than the bacon fat. But, really, if you were feeling health conscious, why would you be making this in the first place?

I doubt very much that I'm the first person to think of this (the idea came when I flipped past "spaghetti carbonara" when looking for SteelyKid-safe pasta recipes), but I can't be bothered to look to see if this has an actual name.

Obligatory ingredient notes: the vegetables were from Hannaford, in the organic section, not so much because of any deep commitment to organic farming as because they looked better than the non-organic versions. The bacon was just regular Oscar Meyer bacon, albeit the thick cut kind. If I'm feeling snooty the next time I want to make this, I might try buying bacon from one of the stands at the local farmer's market, which would probably have a stronger flavor (and also be three times the price).

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I don't know if it's in Everything, but I'm fond of the butternut squash pasta out of Minimalist Cooks at Home. It took me a try or two to figure out how to peel and cut the squash quickly (multiple passes with a heavy peeler and open the squash with a serrated knife), but add a little sausage and it's a nice main dish.

That makes sense. Parmesan cheese has three major flavor components: salt, fat, and umami. Bacon has the same three flavor components, although rather more fat than the parmesan. If you were looking for a healthy vegan alternative (not that I'm urging you to be a vegan or anything!), you could try some nutritional yeast.

Regarding pasta with just bacon and oil, there's a classic Italian pasta dish with pancetta (same cut of meat as bacon), butter, and peas. It's freakin' excellent.

So, do you chase the bacon flavoured item with orange juice (to neutralize the nitrites)?


A fairly simple variant on your recipe has proved quite popular among folks I cook for -- just replace your zucchini and squash with a generous helping of sliced mushrooms and add a decent grinding of black pepper. Due to the great popularity of the combination of mushrooms and bacon among the hobbits at Crickhollow, this dish has become known here as "Hobbit food."

Oh -- on the subject of good local bacon at not-unreasonable prices (under $5/lb), Oscar's Smokehouse in Warrensburg makes truly awesome hickory smoked (also apple smoked) bacon, and they do have some local distribution in the Capitol District. I'm not sure of any source in the Niskayuna/Schenectady area, but DeVoe's Rainbow Orchards on Rt.9 in Clifton Park carries Oscar's bacon all the time.

Re #7, Oscar's also mailorders. Try the dried beef, too.

By featheredfrog (not verified) on 26 Feb 2009 #permalink

It still registers as "Hanford" every time I see "Hannaford," since the franchise's appearance there postdates my knowledge of the reactor site. The mental association doesn't make organic feel like the healthier alternative.

The kid can't handle Parmesan cheese? This should be grounds for disownment.

The kid can't handle Parmesan cheese? This should be grounds for disownment.

Don't let her hear you say that. She's got four teeth now, and she'll bite you good.

@Tom: They've only been using the Hannaford name for their grocery stores for about a decade or less. In the late 1990s their stores (or at least the one in Dover, NH, where I did most of my grocery shopping at the time) were known as Shop and Save, or something like that. The Hannaford name appeared in fine print as the distributor for the store brand (said fine print identified their headquarters as being in Scarborough, ME, which is a suburb of Portland). As to why they decided the family name was more marketable than Shop and Save, I have no clue.

Some of my relatives used to live in eastern Washington state, within two hours drive of Hanford. Their consensus: that land was so worthless that even the Bureau of Indian Affairs, in their least enlightened days, thought the natives deserved better. And that was before the government built the nuclear facilities there.

By Eric Lund (not verified) on 26 Feb 2009 #permalink

What, no sugar or salt.

You shall get no love from the Gods of good cooking until you bow to, and worship, the holy trinity: salt, sugar, and bacon drippings.

Toss in a handful of sugar and half a shaker of salt and your on to something.

The sign of a good cook is a 'zipper chest' from a triple bypass at 40. A badge of honor.

I made this and it t'was terrible to thine taste receptors. I can't believe(no pun intended) that you would claim that bacon can do anything at all.