Pasta with Beans, Brussels Sprouts, and Bacon

beans, bacon, and pastaWhat’s not better with a little bacon? That’s our new family motto. We have been indulging in a weekly ration of bacon from the Hitchcock deli. It’s an inexpensive addiction that makes breakfast, lunch, or dinner a whole lot better. Hitchcock has a great selection of meats in their case and is one place in Winslow where you can pick up local eggs if you’re in need and doing errands in town.

In the interest of making less kitchen waste (and for the sake of our pipes), we save fat left over from cooking bacon in a jar in the fridge. Using a little for cooking is not so radical – one of those lost cooking practices that should not be ignored for it is sheer deliciousness. (And hey, if you’re dairy free, it’s a good way to add a little yum without butter, right?)

Serves 2-3

about 5 oz dried pastaphoto
3 strips bacon
1 15 oz. can Great Northern beans (or any white bean)
1 pound brussels sprouts
1 tbls. bacon fat
pinch of red pepper flakes
4 sprigs thyme
1/2 tbls. dried marjoram
1/2 tsp. dried rosemary
squeeze of lemon
salt and pepper

  1. Clean and cut the sprouts into thirds with a sharp paring knife.  (Cut from top to bottom. Core and stem is in the middle third.)
  2. Drain and rinse beans.
  3. Chop the bacon into 1/4 inch squares. Crisp the bacon over medium in a large cast iron skillet.
  4. At the same time, bring your pasta water to a boil in a large pot. (Observe the cooking time of your selected pasta and cook accordingly.)
  5. Remove the bacon to a towel. Reserve the bacon fat that is in the pan. Add sprouts to this pan. Sprinkle with salt. Stir to be sure they are coated on both sides and then turn burner down to medium low. Cover with lid for 8 minutes.
  6. Transfer sprouts to a warm bowl to hold.
  7. Add 1 additional tablespoon of bacon fat to skillet. Add beans, red pepper flakes, herbs, a generous amount of salt, and pepper. Give the beans a stir. Let them cook and sizzle while you go drain your pasta.
  8. Add pasta and sprouts to the skillet
    with the beans. Stir. Sprinkle bacon on top. Stir once. Add a little squeeze of lemon. Stir and put on plates. Top with Parmesan, if desired.

Notes to those of you who are just learning to cook. This dinner began without a recipe. Just knowing that bacon and thyme go well with white beans, was the beginning of another improvisational pasta dish. Red pepper flakes add a little dimension and a squeeze of lemon brightens it up. For another simple brussels sprout recipe, try this.


Killer Kale

How do you make kale, a perfectly green and friendly vegetable, into a horrific Halloween prop? Read on.

So I’m sure you’re an expert at making kale chips by now, right? This generation of healthy kiddos will probably one day commiserate about how the moms all banded together and forced their children to enjoy these as a backseat snack, passing them off as junk food just because they were crunchy and salty. Well, recently, I’ve been even sneakier. I’ve taken the kale chips, popped them into the food processor, and created kale dust. I’ve been ‘dusting’ the toddler’s meal with this for weeks – eggs, grilled cheese, pasta, anything!  So, when we had to come up with a ‘spooky’ appetizer for a Halloween party and we inventoried the pantry, this is what we came up with:

Don’t be scared. Enjoy your kale dust any way you please.

Cemetery Bruschetta

2 cups dried white beans, soaked overnight
2 bay leaves
2 cloves of garlic
5 whole black peppercorns
1 white or yellow onion, peeled and halved
salt and pepper to taste
kale dust
1 recipe focaccia bread (Do not top with herbs or salt.)

  1. Rinse and drain beans. Simmer for about an hour and a half covered on low with the bay leaves, garlic, onion halves, and peppercorns.
  2. Remove beans with skimmer and add salt and pepper.
  3. Puree in food processor until smooth.
  4. Spread on a rectangular plate.
  5. Coerce your loved one into carving tombstones out of focaccia bread.
  6. Stand tombstones in bean puree. Dust with kale.

Emmer Pilaf

Emmer, which also masquerades under the name farro, is an historic whole grain which can make a hearty side or meal. I first came across it when we watched the Good Food documentary. I then had it in a delicious  Emmer and beans, with a mache salad on the siderisotto at a dinner party and have finally gotten my hands on a bag from Bluebird Grain Farms. (It only took a trip to PCC, but hey, that took some effort.)  Tired of eating veggies we stored in the freezer, we were hungry for something fresh and took a field trip to the U-district farmer’s market last weekend. We scored more carrots than two humans need, lots of irresistible cheese, many beautiful and sundry greens, and some lovely dried beans. Tonight, I added the beans and the farro together to make a vegetarian (read: let’s not eat any more pork tonight, dear) meal.

There are many recipes for emmer risotto/pilaf out there, including the ones on Bluebird’s website. I either didn’t have the ingredients or patience for the recipes that I found, so I just made one up, combining the basic cooking instructions on the back of the bag with the other recipes that I had read. What resulted was a simple and yummy bowl of comfort food.

Emmer Pilaf

1 cup beautiful dried beans (mine were cranberry)
1 cup whole grain emmer
2 tbls. olive oil
1 onion
1 clove of garlic
1/3 cup white wine
6 cups stock (I used turkey since we seem to have an overabundance of it; veggie or chicken would probably work just fine)
3 sprigs thyme (or other herb on hand)
2 tbls. cream (optional and decadent)

  1. Put beans on to soak early in the day. Cover completely with cool water for at least 6 hours.  (To quick soak the beans, cover with water and boil for about 3 minutes. Take off the heat. Cover with lid and let sit for 1 hour.)
  2. Finely dice the onion and mince the garlic. Saute over medium- low with the olive oil.
  3. After about 5 minutes, add emmer and toast for about 3 minutes. Stir in the wine.
  4. When the wine is absorbed, add the stock. Stir in beans. Cover and cook on low for about an hour and fifteen minutes.
  5. Drain off the liquid. (Everyone seems to think that if you reserve this it will be good in a soup or used as stock.) Season with salt and pepper. Drizzle in the cream, if using. Dive in.

Roasted tomato, cipollini, and white bean ‘stew’

I guess it just comes down to the fact that I really like onions. I did not really realize this. However, I keep finding one that I love more than the last! In the spring, Tani Creek had this wonderful green variety called ‘walking onions.’ I was so sad when they were no longer at the farmer’s market. (So sad, in fact, that I tried to plant a few and coax them into multiplying. No luck.) Now that it’s full-fledged summer here, my all-time favorite onion is out. All hail the cipollini! Here is the way that I most frequently enjoy them.

2 cups dried cannellini beans
olive oil
about 10-12 cherry tomatoes (or larger ones, cut into chunks)
4 cloves of garlic
6 or so cipollini onions (halved, if large)
parmesan cheese

Soak the cannellini beans in the morning. When it’s time for dinner, drain, rinse, and put them on the stove to simmer in stock or water. (Add a bay leaf, if you have one.) The beans should simmer for about 45 minutes or until tender. (Don’t let them get mushy.) About fifteen minutes before your beans are done, toss the tomatoes, garlic, and peeled cipollini, with olive oil, salt and pepper. Roast on a sheet pan in the oven on 425F for about 15 minutes or until the cipollini and garlic are caramelized. After removing from the oven, flatten the garlic cloves with the back of a spoon and then add this delicious mixture to your beans. (Since you’ve ‘squished’ the garlic, it will distribute nicely.) Top with cheese, and serve for a quick meal. Sometimes I spoon it over a small pasta or over a crusty bread.

Roasted Tomatoes and Cannellini Beans

Tomatoes are showing up at the market and nothing is as beautiful as a basket of those little, multi-colored cherry tomatoes. Here’s a very simple dish. Make a lot and eat it for lunch, too!

Soak the white beans in the morning, for about 8 hours.  Drain, rinse. Simmer, covered, on low with a bay leaf, for an hour. Drain again.

While the beans are cooking, spread a little olive oil in a baking pan. Add tomatoes, some garlic cloves, and maybe a cut up onion (or cipollini onions, if you’re lucky enough to have them.)  Season with some kosher salt and pepper. Stir to coat all the veggies with the oil and seasonings. Roast at about 350°F until the tomatoes start to look a little brown.

Toss the vegetables and the beans together with some good olive oil, fresh oregano (or basil), salt and pepper, to taste.  Serve over a small pasta or grilled garlic bread.  Yum!