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Healthy Bacon Pasta? Add Broccoli, and Yes!

Posted Aug 25 2008 2:51pm

I’m still going to post my homemade LARA bar-like energy bar recipe (most likely tomorrow). In the meantime, I realized that my dinner offerings have been minimal in my posts of late. This post will begin to remedy that.

For me, dinner still provides an occasional hang up. On more occasions than I’d care to admit, 6 p.m. signals my brain to cozy up to a cup of tea—not a pile of raw chicken breasts. This is further exacerbated if I’ve already been experimenting in the kitchen all day for one project or another.

If I were still single, the tea (and likely a nap, too) would work, but other people in the house are hungry (and I know I will be, too).
So dinner is on, and last night it was a warming pasta, one I haven’t made in awhile. It’s one of those rare meals that makes me feel simultaneously virtuous and decadent post-consumption.
The pasta appeals for several reasons. Now that the last of the winter holidays is more than a week past, and frosty windows are bare of hearts, cupids and other festive adornments, the harried modern person (moi; et toi?) re-evaluates New Year’s resolutions to eat healthy foods in general, and vegetables in particular, with the same enthusiasm as a triple root canal.

A commitment to green vegetables is particularly loathsome in February (the mind starts to wander to thoughts like “perhaps I should just wait until next year?”), and it is amazing how many people single out broccoli as one of the most offensive options.
Poor broccoli; it is rarely given the opportunity to deliver. In homes across the land it is sabotaged by cheezy-squeezy sauce. Restaurants most often boil it until it is good and dead, and then leave it hanging around over low heat until putrid. Or it is found raw and naked on supermarket party platters where, in both flavor and texture, it is akin to a rubber pencil eraser.

But what most people do not know about broccoli is enough to fill a book. Even the most humdrum broccoli, strangled in cellophane wrap at the supermarket, can be wonderful if it is fresh and does not get overcooked.

Not only does broccoli have delicious potential, it ranks as a superfood (that is, when not cooked until gray). It is loaded with vitamins A and C, folic acid, calcium, fiber and a host of cancer-fighting phytochemicals. Before you buy, look for crisp, moist stalks with dark green or slightly purplish heads. Heads that are yellowing or flowering should be avoided.
Once purchased, store the stalks loosely covered in the vegetable bin. Cut the broccoli into bite-size pieces and then lightly steam or quickly stir-fry until crisp-tender to maximize both the flavor and health potential.

Or you can make life even easier on yourself and buy a bag of broccoli florets. The difference between the florets and the bags stuffed with bulky stems is vast; the former are crisp and flavorful and taste remarkably like fresh when steamed or blanched.
Try the following recipe on people -- yourself included -- who state categorically that they detest broccoli. They will likely change their minds. I have convinced many fussy eaters (e.g., a husband named Kevin and a son named Nick) of the virtues of broccoli with the following pasta, which is why I secretly refer to the dish as “Conversion Broccoli.”

The bacon is key to the recipe; it adds tremendous flavor (and hey, it really comes down to 1 slice per serving) and will make you want to eat your broccoli again and again.
Orecchiette with Broccoli, Bacon & Lemon

This is a rendition of a very traditional Italian recipe (it usually has anchovies, but I cannot find good ones in the supermarket where I live; plus, I like bacon better :)) Orecchiette are smooth, curved rounds of flat pasta; about 1/2 -inch in diameter. The name, (pronounced or-ek-YET-teh) means "little ears", and the shape makes them perfect for chunky vegetable- and meat-based dishes, like this one. If you cannot find orecchiette, use wagon wheel shaped pasta or another short, stubby pasta.

1/4 pound bacon (about 4 slices), chopped
3 and 1/2 cups small broccoli florets (fresh or frozen)
3/4 pound orecchiette-shaped pasta (or wagon wheels, or medium shells)
3 large garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1/3 cup canned chicken low-sodium broth
1/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese, plus fresh shavings for serving
3/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
2 teaspoons finely grated lemon zest
4 wedges of lemon

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.
In a large skillet, cook the bacon over moderate heat until crisp. While bacon is cooking, add the broccoli to the boiling water and cook 2 to 3 minutes, or until just tender. Transfer vegetables with a slotted spoon to a colander to drain and keep water at a boil.

Add the garlic and drained broccoli to bacon and sauté until edges of broccoli begin to caramelize (turn slightly brown), about 3 minutes. Keep mixture warm.
Cook pasta in boiling water until al dente and drain well in colander. Return pasta to large pot, add the broccoli mixture, olive oil, broth, 1/3 cup cheese, pepper, lemon zest, and salt to taste, tossing until combined well.

Spoon pasta into bowls and sprinkle with Parmesan cheese shavings and a squeeze of lemon, if desired. Makes 4 main-dish servings.
Nutrition per Serving (1/4 of the pasta):
Calories 438; Fat 10.8g (sat 2.9g, mono 4.9g, poly 1.7g); Protein 17.1g; Cholesterol 12.3mg; Carbohydrate 67g; Sodium 272.8mg.
(Note: I did the nutrition analysis using Diet Analysis Plus 7.0.1 )
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