Thursday, October 13, 2011

Orecchiette with Kale and Bacon

Here is a dish that never fails to satisfy, is quick to prepare, and is somewhat healthy.  Well, maybe healthy wouldn't be the best description, but it does have a green vegetable in one of its starring roles, and that has to count for something.  Right? 

I stumbled upon the original of this recipe in the cookbook The Herbal Kitchen years ago.  I have cooked it many, many times since, changing it to meet my needs and ingredients.  Really, at this point, it is more a method than recipe and can be changed accordingly.  You can use other types of greens depending on what is available and pancetta rather than bacon, if you prefer.  I get great quality uncured bacon from Grateful Growers, a farm in my area.  If uncured bacon is available, I highly recommend it.  Not only is it healthier, it also lends a deeper pork flavor to the pasta. The kale is delicious as a side dish without the pasta as well.  Just cook it according to the directions below without adding the pasta, water, or cheese. 

Start by tearing your kale into pieces and allowing it to soak in a bowl of cool water.  The dirt from the kale will settle to the bottom of the bowl after several minutes, allowing you to scoop out nice, clean, grit-free kale.  

Next, fry up some bacon until crisp, and remove it to a towel lined plate to drain.  The kale will cook in some of the melted bacon fat along with some garlic and red pepper flakes until wilted and crisp-tender. Sometimes I add oregano (if I have it on hand), but I find it is equally good without it.  If you don't have it, no big deal.  It will still be yummy!

You will add the cooked pasta to the kale along with a little of the pasta cooking water and grated parmesan cheese to make a sauce that will coat the ingredients and take you straight to heaven.  

One thing to note...while you can use other pasta types, my husband swears by orecchiette.  There's something about the way some of the pieces of pasta huddle together and cradle the kale and bacon that makes it extra appealing.  

Orecchiette with Kale and Bacon
serves 4

1 large bunch of kale, torn into pieces and washed
12 oz orecchiette
5 slices bacon (uncured if possible), chopped in small pieces
3 medium-sized garlic cloves, minced
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 tbsp chopped fresh oregano (optional)
1/2 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano, grated
1 tbsp olive oil
kosher salt, to taste

Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil and add the pasta.  Cook according to package directions.  Reserve the pasta cooking liquid.  

While the pasta is cooking, cook the bacon in the olive oil in a large skillet until crisp.  Remove the bacon to a towel lined plate.  Drain all but 2 tbsp of the fat from the pan.  Add the garlic to the skillet and cook 30 seconds.  Add the red pepper flakes and kale and cook until the kale is wilted and fairly tender. Season the kale with salt and pepper.   

Add the drained pasta to the kale along with 1/4 cup of the pasta cooking liquid.  Stir in the oregano, if using, and the parmesan cheese.  Stir gently until the cheese is melted and mixed throughout.  Season with salt and pepper, if needed.  Return the bacon to the pan and stir it into the pasta mixture.  Serve sprinkled with additional cheese, if desired.

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