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FOR THE LOVE OF BACON!

If you happen to be a vegan or vegetarian, read no further. If, on the other hand you are as deliriously in love with bacon as I am, then this column is for you.

I am a Texas boy and we do love our meats. I make no apologies. However, as I have gotten older I do eat a lot more fish, chicken and veggies. Red meat is like a past love affair, the memory still stirs my emotions and, in this case, my palate. Like a lover that you don’t want to kiss off, my meat drawer always contains bacon. I just can’t say goodbye.

When I was a kid, I used to hang out in my Grandmother’s kitchen. It was a wonderous place with smells and sights that I can totally recall to this day. If you have never smelled handmade buttermilk bisquits rising like Mt. Vesuvius in an oven, you have missed one of the great experiences of life!

I remember vividly her frying up bacon that was the crowning glory of a wilted salad made with the bacon grease, vinegar and finely chopped pieces of the bacon. To this day, it is the ultimate comfort food along with her fried chicken, collard greens and creamed corn. In those days, life couldn’t get any better!
Even today, I cook my greens in bacon grease, garlic and seasoned rice wine vinegar. It will never be the same as it was cooked with her loving hands in that magical kitchen, but it’s pretty darn close. However, I do make a mean Spaghetti Carbonara that she would never have dreamed of creating. “ I can understand the bacon, but raw eggs! No, no no!” she would have said with a horrified look on her face.

For me, bacon’s crowning glory is a BLT on sourdough toast …… oh, hell on any kind of good bread …… dripping with homemade or Hellman’s/ Best Foods brand mayonnaise, piled high with ripe tomatoes and the freshest green lettuce your garden can provide or money can buy. Food for the Gods!
The BLT is a relative newcomer in the food world. It was not until after World War II that supermarkets began popping up everywhere carrying fresh lettuce and tomatoes, year-round. The rest is history.

Bacon is decadent! Mac and Cheese is even more decadent, so here is my favorite recipe for BACON MAC AND CHEESE that should pretty much send you over the edge. Enjoy!

BACON MAC AND CHEESE
Serves 4 to 6

1/4 pound bacon
1 pound cavatelli pasta
1 bunch thyme (about the thickness of a quarter), plus 11/2 tablespoons chopped, fresh thyme
4 sprigs rosemary
4 tablespoons (11/2 sticks) of unsalted butter
2 medium Spanish onions, coarsely chopped
1 clove garlic, crushed
½ to ¾ cup dry white wine
¼ to ½ cup all-purpose flour
4 cups milk
3 cups heavy cream
¼ cup Dijon mustard
1 cup grated white cheddar cheese (4 ounces)
¼ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
½ cup coarse breadcrumbs (try cornbread!)
1 cup grated Grana Padano cheese (4 ounces)

In a large skillet over medium-low heat, cook the bacon until crispy, about 10 minutes. Drain on paper towels. When cool, cut in ¼ inch pieces.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add
the pasta and cook until al dente. Drain and set aside.

Tie the bunch of thyme and sprigs of rosemary together with clean kitchen string. In a large wide-mouth stockpot, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the onions, garlic and herbs and cook until the onion is soft, 8 to 10 minutes. Add the wine and cook, stirring occasionally, until reduced by half, about 10 minutes. Remove and discard the garlic and herbs. Whisk in the flour and cook, stirring for 1 minute. Gradually whisk in the milk and cream, then the mustard. Reduce the heat to a gentle simmer and cook, stirring constantly, for about 30 minutes.

Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the cheddar, a handful at a time, waiting until each addition is completely melted before adding more. Season with the nutmeg and add salt and black pepper to taste.

Add the pasta and the chopped thyme and bacon and heat through until the pasta is well coated and seasoned, about 5 minutes. Adjust the seasonings as needed.

Pour the mixture into a casserole dish or individual oven proof gratin dishes. Sprinkle the top(s) with a generous layer of breadcrumbs, then a layer of Grana Padano, then another layer of breadcrumbs. Bake for 20 minutes, or until bubbly and crispy.

What a treat!

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