Just as I probably wouldn’t classify the movie Airplane as a tragedy, I probably wouldn’t call any dish that includes bacon vegetarian friendly. But many of the problems caused by our typical American diet stem not just from the fact that we eat meat but the fact that we eat so much of it and cutting back might be a good first step. There are plenty of 16 oz steaks on menus all over the place. And yes, they can be delicious. Lots of books about diet and sustainability suggest cutting meat serving sizes down to 3 or 4 ounces. Many times, I find myself hungry after such a small serving. But what if I found perhaps the most delicious and richest meat to cross my palate in a long while? What if it came from a small farm in Florida and had been cured by a man very passionate about bacon? That’s a different story.
The NY Times ran a story about a breed of pig called Mangalitsa that produces incredibly buttery, rich meat. Truthfully, this was something I had wanted to taste in NYC for quite some time but had not been able to find. So I was pleased when the gentleman who runs the Transatlantic Sausage Company at the farmers market in Sarasota offered me a small package of Mangalitsa bacon. He compared it to Italian pancetta or guanciale, both of which you might have tasted if you’ve ever eaten an authentic carbonara. It’s pricey by the pound but it’s used in such small quantities that the cost per serving is lower than a fast food meal deal.
The same week I saw the bacon, I noticed a stunning bin of cranberry beans. Cranberry beans are beautiful at every stage; at the market, after they’re shelled, in the cooking water, and on the plate. I posted a recipe for Fava Bean Crostino last spring and the prep is very much the same but they only need to be shelled once. They are sometimes called ‘shell beans’ and have an almost nutty flavor.
I ended up serving the pasta for guests who were used to eating meat. Plenty of meat. But instead of a 5 or even 6 oz serving of meat per person, I used a grand total of 2 ounces for 4 of us. The dish was rich and meaty and satisfied the inner carnivores in all of us. The bacon was smoky and earthy and the beans themselves were hearty in a fresh and sort of ‘snappy’ way.
So no, the dish is not vegetarian and I of course wouldn’t serve it to a vegetarian. But I think all of us should play around with using smaller amounts of better quality meats and then filling out the dish with great seasonal legumes or vegetables. So while I still wouldn’t classify Airplane as a tragedy, I would classify this dish as moving in the vegetarian direction. ‘Vegetarian direction with bacon? Surely you can’t be serious.’
I am serious. And don’t call me Shirley.
Pasta w/ Cranberry Beans and Mangalitsa Bacon (Farmers Market Bill $8/4 Servings = $2/Serving)
Set a medium-sized saucepan full of salted water on the stove over high heat
Remove a pound of cranberry beans from their shells and add them to boiling water
Reduce the heat and simmer the beans for around 25 minutes or until tender
While beans are simmering, bring another pot of salted water to a boil
Chop 2 cloves of garlic and 4 oz of the highest quality local bacon you can get your hands on
Add to skillet along with a tablespoon of olive oil and saute over medium heat for around 8 minutes or until bacon just starts to crisp
When beans are done, strain them and add them to the bacon and garlic mixture and saute for another 2 minutes
Add a splash of white wine or stock and turn burner down to low
Cook 3/4 pound of pasta according to package directions
Strain and toss with ingredients in skillet
Add salt and pepper but taste first as the bacon has some salt to begin with
I love to garnish smokey dishes with red pepper flakes