Bacon is back. In the past few months I have come across no fewer than seven food articles in which bacon played either a main role or a supporting role in various dishes. Talk about pigging out. Did you know that there was a “Bacon of the Month Club?” Now you do. And have you heard about the “Bacon Explosion?” Two pounds of bacon get woven through and around two pounds of Italian sausage, the whole of which is slathered in barbecue sauce. Talk about going whole hog!
Bacon is loaded with fl avor (“everything tastes better with bacon” is pushing the envelope, but there is some truth there), so it does have a place in many dishes and styles of food. And to expand the possibilities, consider using pancetta. The Italian version of bacon, pancetta is a cured — but not smoked — pork product that should be considered when working up dishes where the idea of pork has merit. One example would be a PLT, or pancetta, lettuce and tomato panini. Buy baby pancetta (it is sold rolled and has the shape of, say, capicolla or salami). Slice it thin, crisp it in a sauté pan and use the whole round slices to make a great panini.
I am also in favor of using bacon (or pancetta) in pasta dishes. For example, one of the tastiest pasta dishes around is spaghetti carbonara. Spaghetti carbonara uses just a few ingredients — cooked bacon (or pancetta), grated Parmesan, eggs, black pepper — that when tossed with the cooked pasta makes quite an amazing and delicious dish. And don’t forget that bacon can be used quite effectively in a salad. For example, combine fresh spinach with crisp bacon, tomatoes, and slices of hard-boiled eggs. A balsamic vinaigrette dressing completes this delicious salad.
Cooking bacon is a no-brainer, but the simplest and easiest method is to microwave it. You can prep a whole lot of bacon in a short amount of time this way. If you do that, be sure to keep the cooked bacon in the cooler or prep table (covered). Even though it is cooked, bacon can go over the hill fast, so I recommend you not cook more than you need for, say, four days.
On the other hand, if you need the fat that is rendered from the cooking of the bacon, use a sauté pan and fry away. Or lay the bacon on a sheet pan and cook it in the deck oven (conveyor oven works too, but the grease splatters really do a number on the oven). There is also the possibility of deep-frying the bacon, should you want it extra crisp to use, say, as crumbles on a salad. The deep-frying does take most of the fat out, which you can take two ways: healthier, but with a loss of flavor.
So there’s an idea, thinking about that “Pork Explosion.” What about the possibility of using bacon and Italian sausage together as a pizza topping. Got a name for it? No? I do. “Pork Pie.”
Pork (Pizza) Pie
I have to admit right up front that this pizza is not low on calories or fat, but when it comes to flavor, there is nothing quite like it.
Makes one 14-inch pizza (scale up in direct proportion)
1 14-inch pizza shell
8 ounces shredded mozzarella
10 ounces ground pork
2 teaspoons ground fennel
1 teaspoon each salt and pepper
6 strips bacon, cooked until crispy, then chopped into ½-inch pieces
8 ounces ground tomatoes or tomato puree
2 tablespoons grated Romano cheese
Spread the mozzarella over the crust up to ½-inch of the edge.
Mix the ground pork with the fennel, salt, pepper and press into a patty that is about 12-inches in diameter (in other words, very thin). Put the pork patty on top of the cheese.
Sprinkle the cooked and chopped bacon over the pork. Ladle on the tomatoes. Sprinkle the Romano cheese evenly over the tomatoes. Bake.
Bacon and Spinach Pizza
You will note that in this recipe I use the half-and-half cheese method — half the cheese directly on the crust, then add the toppings and finish with the remaining cheese. No tomatoes are used on this pizza. This method gives the pizza a lot more eye appeal since the toppings are visible. This pizza falls into the “Signature” category of pizzas. In other words, because it is made with premium ingredients, you can charge a bit more. Your customers will agree, once they have had a slice or two, that this pizza is worth an extra buck or two.
Makes one 12-inch pizza (scale up in direct proportion)
1 12-inch pizza shell
¼ pound bacon, cooked until crisp and broken into pieces
8 ounces 50/50 blend mozzarella and provolone
½ pound (about) fresh plum or Roma tomatoes, sliced
10-12 ounces fresh baby spinach leaves, coarsely chopped
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh garlic
¼ cup toasted pine nuts
Spread half the cheese blend over the rolled out crust. Sprinkle the cooked bacon over the cheese.
Lay the sliced fresh tomatoes evenly over the cheese.
Spread the spinach leaves evenly over the bacon and tomatoes.
Drizzle the olive oil over the spinach, followed by the chopped fresh garlic.
Sprinkle on the remaining 4 ounces of cheese, followed by the toasted pine nuts. Bake.
Pat Bruno is Pizza Today’s resident chef and a regular contributor. He is the former owner and operator of a prominent Italian cooking school in Chicago and is a food critic for the Chicago Sun-Times.