If you’ve ever met me, you know I have a thing for bacon.
I love bacon enough for my sister and I to make an all-bacon Thanksgiving feast with 8 dishes including bacon stuffing, bacon mashed potatoes, and bacon-wrapped turkey. I love bacon enough to go to a Bacon Camp and make bacon sushi and take random photos of beautiful bacon dishes. I love bacon enough to do a 4-course Iron Chef-style bacon smackdown that included bacon chocolate and bacon cookies and have been known to make bacon cupcakes and even bacon macaroni-and-cheese cat cakes. Don’t ask. I even love bacon enough to tattoo it on my face.
So you can probably comprehend my fat-kid-in-a-candy-shop-on-Christmas-morning level of excitement when this package arrived in the mail. I actually jumped up and down and squealed like a pig. A delicious, dry-cured British pig.
Understandably, most people’s first question on hearing about my bacon package is ‘How did you get that?!?!’ Meaning, obviously, ‘How can I get that!?!?!’ The answer is that I was sent the bacon from a PR company promoting ‘Real Bacon’; that is, British bacon dry-cured in a traditional manner that involves hand rubbing with salt and spices and at least 21 days of air-drying. In contrast to a lot of imported bacon that’s injected with water and chemicals, this bacon doesn’t shrink to half its original size in the frying pan or give off a funky white gloopiness when being cooked which comes from the injected water leaching out, two things I’ve actually noticed recently when cooking bacon. Plus, the bacon comes from pigs that are compassionately farmed, which I’m all about. Well, that’s what the press release says, which may require a little more investigation.
However, the interesting thing for me was that the press release didn’t come from an expensive artisan bacon company, or even from one company at all. In fact, the bacon came from multiple different supermarkets at a range of prices from M&S to Morrisons, all in support of the ‘I love Real Bacon’ campaign. And while I’m trying to look for supermarket alternatives for a lot of my shopping, it’s a bit unrealistic to get all my groceries at farmer’s markets so it’s great to know that there are some better options. And the bacon certainly looked better than a lot of the inspidly pink, monotonously hued, fleshy rashers you sometimes see down those flourescently highlighted megamart aisles.
P.S. For those of my friends back home wondering why the bacon is a funny shape and less fatty and stripey than normal, this is what is called ‘back bacon’ in the UK, which is essentially a bacon-cured pork loin. The typical long and skinny slice of pork belly that we just call bacon, they call ‘streaky bacon’. In case you were wondering. They held their size pretty well when fried up with none of the gross white stuff, had a nice salty meatiness and got a good seared crisp on the fatty bits. Pretty damn good stuff.
Now I love bacon, and you love bacon, and I want to share the glories of bacon. Getting a massive box of bacon is definitely a good opportunity to have a dinner party. But as much as I would like to just hand over strips of bacon for our mutual enjoyment, I figured it should actually be incorporated into a dish before I get accused of endangering the cardiac health of my dinner guests. Enter Ottolenghi’s Caramelised Garlic Tart of amazingness.
I’ve talked about genius chef-man Ottolenghi before and the usefulness of his incredible vegetarian cookbook, Plenty, during my month of meatlessness. Every recipe I’ve tried so far, from the Very Full Tart to this ridiculously good soba noodles with mango and eggplant recipe, has been absolutely stellar. But of course, even stellar can be better with bacon. I bet Ottolenghi himself, as a meat eater with an appreciation of the glories of vegetables, would agree.
Caramelised Garlic Tart with Goat Cheeses and, Obviously, Bacon.
All credit to Ottolenghi, except adapted slightly in honor of bacon.
What You Need:
375g puff pastry – easy to buy pre-rolled in the store
a few tbsps olive oil
Salt and black pepper
2 heads garlic, cloves peeled – I did this once and my hands smelled of garlic for hours. My recommendation for lazy people who don’t mind spending an extra pound – buy them pre-peeled. Your fingers and your friends will thank me.
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
1½ tbsp caster sugar – that’s just regular sugar for you Americans.
1 tsp chopped rosemary
1 tsp chopped thyme, plus a few whole sprigs to finish
120g rich, creamy goats’ cheese
120g harder goat’s cheese
100ml double cream – heavy cream if you’re in the US
100ml crème fraîche
What You Do:
1. Preheat the oven to 180C/350F and then roll out your puff pastry in a tart pan or pie tin. Create an outer crust lip, place some baking paper down, fill with beans and blind bake for 20 minutes. Take out the beans and bake for another 20 minutes or so, until the pastry is a light golden brown.
2. While the pastry is baking, cover the garlic in water and simmer for 3 minutes to blanch. Drain, then return to the pan with a splash of oil to lightly fry for a few minutes. Add the vinegar and 180 ml of water (about 3/4 cup) and simmer for another 10 minutes. Then add the sugar, the thyme and rosemary, and a pinch of salt. Simmer for another 10 minutes until the liquid is reduced to a delicious-smelling dark syrup and you are tempted to eat whole cloves of garlic straight out of the pan.
3. Crumble the goat cheese and strew across the pre-baked tart case. I’m interested to experiment with some other cheese here, but I used one log of chevre and another white hard goat cheese and they were delicious.
4. Now this part is pretty exciting. Spoon the garlic and the sauce across the cheese. It looks pretty already, and you will want to try to eat it now, but don’t. It gets much better.
5. Whisk together the eggs with the double cream and creme fraiche and some salt and pepper. Pour into the tart case, letting some of the garlic peek out and show their face.
6. ADD YOUR BACON! I only did half because one of our guests doesn’t eat bacon. Sad, I know, but that’s more bacon for the rest of us.
7. Bake the tart for about 35-45 minutes, until the filling sets and the top is a lovely golden-brown color that you just want to lick. Mmmmmm. I’ve made this thing of beauty twice now for dinner parties and brunches and it’s always a huge hit.
For those of you who might want a healthier or non-meat version, remember that it started as a vegetarian tart and is still seriously delicious that way. Although….well, come to think of it, given the eggs and the cream, I should probably avoid references to health altogether. But the important thing to know is that this tart, like just about everything, including breakfast, lunch, dinner, dessert, Thanksgiving, is just better with bacon.