Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Week 5: Spicy Rainbow Chard with Bacon and Polenta

This week’s recipe comes from the December 2012 issue of Sunset magazine. I have been a loyal reader of Sunset since I was in my teens. I know that might sound strange, but it is the truth. My mother was not a very good cook and had a small repertoire that primarily consisted of spaghetti, meatloaf, pork chops, baked chicken, and casseroles. So I took over much of the cooking when I was in high school. Given that we had only 3 ancient cookbooks, my only source of current recipes was the monthly issue of Sunset that my aunt would drop off. It was kind of like a family subscription: my aunt paid for it, then I read it, then my mom, and then we would pass it off to my nana. Invariably she would pass that off to a friend as well. I’ve had my own subscription for many years, and I always find at least one recipe in each issue that I want to make.

This recipe caught my eye because I grow chard and love bacon. But then, I would eat bacon with just about anything. That being said, I am a bacon snob and generally only eat my own cured and smoked bacon. Butcher Son and I began doing this in 2011 when we acquired a smoker that belonged to my godfather. It is not a difficult process and the final product has a real smoke flavor that resonates throughout the whole slab of bacon…not that fake smoke flavor that leaves a bad taste in your mouth. I also love having the ability to cut the bacon to my own specifications, depending upon the recipe: lardons, thin cut, thick cut, and even end cuts which I use to flavor soups.

Somehow, I find myself in the odd predicament of being completely out of my homemade bacon; a rare occurrence that has caused me no lack of angst. This catastrophe led me to purchase thick-cut bacon to prepare this recipe. I thought Smithfield seemed like a good choice. They have been around for 70 years and seem to know their pork products.  However, opening the package, I found the bacon to be anything but thick cut. It stretched out when I tried to separate the pieces, each piece flopped in my hand, and when cooking it shriveled into weird shapes and did not cook evenly. A travesty from a company that espouses handcrafted excellence. But enough of my bacon rant and on to the recipe…

As usual, I did not follow the recipe to the letter, altering it based on my own preferences and ingredients. The original recipe called just for chard, but I also had a good crop of kale that needed to be harvested, so I mixed the two. (You can use two bunches of chard if you prefer.) The recipe also called for discarding the bacon fat and cooking the greens in olive oil. I really felt that the bacon fat would enhance the flavor of the dish, albeit make it less healthy. But I was willing to make the tradeoff.

Timewise, this dish took about 30 minutes. I set the polenta up to cook, while I prepared the greens and started the bacon. It’s a simple two-pan dish, does not require any particular skill, and was a keeper in the eyes of Mr. B. The small amount of chile pepper adds a good kick to the chard, but it will be too much for younger children. In fact, my kids would not have been fans until their late teens.

One last note: The recipe says it serves 4, but in my estimation, it would serve 4 as a side dish. Mr. B and I each had a serving and there was maybe a third portion left, and we are not gluttons. So I suggest you either serve a nice roasted chicken or grilled steak alongside, or increase the ingredients by half.

Spicy Rainbow Chard with Bacon and Polenta
1 cup polenta
1/2 teaspoon salt
6 slices thick-cut bacon
2 large shallots, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 large bunch rainbow chard
1 large bunch kale
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon red chile flakes
1/3 cup water
2 tablespoons butter
2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Cook the polenta with salt as the package directs. Meanwhile, cut the ribs out of the chard and kale and slice into 1/4-inch pieces. Roughly chop the leaves. Chop up the garlic and shallot.

In a hot pan, fry your bacon until just crispy. Remove from pan and drain on paper towels.  Crumble once cool.

Reduce the heat of the pan and add your shallots, garlic, and chard ribs until softened. This will take 4-5 minutes. Stir in your chard and kale leaves, chile flakes and water. Cover, reduce heat to low, and cook until wilted.

Stir butter and cheese into the polenta and spoon into bowls. Toss the chard with the balsamic vinegar and spoon over polenta. Sprinkle bacon crumbles on top and hit it with a final shot of Parmesan cheese.

Yield: 4 small or side servings

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