It’s a slogan that has been bandied about by numerous food ‘zines, particularly ones from the UK and much of the British Commonwealth: less meat, more veg. It does make sense, really, when you think about eating much healthier meals as well as considering the increasing need for environmentally sustainable yet economically viable ways of improving the global food supply.
However, contrary to what some carnivorous naysayers are spouting forth, this does not necessarily mean that you have to eschew steaks, chops, and roasts in favor of tofu, vege-meat made out of wheat or mung-bean gluten (shudders), and those hideous-looking (and worse tasting) things that go by the insidious, nefarious name of nut roast. You can still have meat, but you just need less of it – and here’s where things get interesting.
This is one of those cases where quality over quantity should be your catchphrase. If you’re going to have less meat in a meal, you could at least make sure that it’s top-notch with regard to flavor and texture. And this is where this particular deli item comes in handy…
Picnic bacon is a slightly leaner cut than, say, the more common streaky bacon (the typical bacon you can get at a supermarket) or Canadian bacon. It comes from the pig’s shoulder, making it a bit tougher than classic bacon, but it is more flavorful and is cut thick enough for grilling over coals at a barbecue or broiling. Cut up in chunks, it adds meaty depth and a wonted smoky saltiness to winter soups, stews, and – for this particular kitchen outing – pasta sauces.
It is the perfect cut of meat to use in a sauce that involves plenty of mushrooms (two kinds: meaty shiitakes and the lighter but equally flavorful oyster mushrooms) and chunky tomatoes. Not only does it complement the flavors of the other ingredients, but it is rich enough on its own that even a little bit of it goes quite a long way.
Incidentally, if you’re not a fan of mushrooms, you can always swap them for diced eggplant, courgette [zucchini], or even squash to add a hint of sweetness to the dish.
This particular recipe is roughly based on one for penne al’Arabbiata which involves cooking bacon and porcini mushrooms in a spicy tomato sauce. However, since I’ve always been one for mixing things up, I swapped the penne for little corkscrews (fusilli or rotini) – the twists and ridges grab more of the chunky sauce to make this dish more of a treat.
- 1/4 kilo picnic bacon, diced
- 1/2 kilo shiitake mushrooms, sliced
- 1/2 kilo oyster mushrooms, sliced
- 1 medium red onion, peeled and finely chopped
- 4 cloves garlic, crushed, peeled, and minced
- 1 pork bouillon cube
- 1/4 cup water or dry red wine
- 300mL chunky tomato sauce or 250g canned tomatoes
- 300mL regular tomato sauce
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 400 grams corkscrew pasta, prepared according to package instructions
- 2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese, plus additional to serve
- 1 teaspoon ground black pepper or 1 teaspoon dried chili flakes
Prepared the pasta according to package instructions; drain and set aside.
Heat up a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the olive oil and heat till bubbling slightly; add the bacon and cook for about three minutes. Remove the bacon from the oil; set aside. Saute the onion in the oil until softened and slightly translucent. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant and slightly browned at the edges. Return the bacon to the pan and toss in the mushrooms; cook for about 5 – 8 minutes or until the mushrooms have softened up. Add the water and the bouillon cube and stir till the cube has dissolved; bring to a boil. Add both of the tomato sauces and mix well. Bring to a boil again, then remove from the heat. Stir in the Parmesan and the pepper.
Mix about 2/3 cup of the sauce to the pasta; serve the rest in a separate dish. Bring the extra cheese to the table so that diners can add more to suit individual tastes.