Bacon Makes Everything Better

It is warming up here in the Pacific Northwest and everything looks beautiful. One of the things I cook a lot throughout the year is soup. About a month ago I created a two-for-one meal that is super easy and features soup. Now, it probably makes a little more sense to prepare these when it is colder, but as a veteran of the Pacific Northwest, I already know that the warm and wonderful weather we are experiencing right now could flee at the drop of a hat and we could go back to cool and dreary until July 5th (people who have lived here a long time say you can’t rely on good weather until after the 4th of July—and sometimes not even then!). These meals can be vegetarian, or even vegan come to think of it, but because I love bacon they aren’t in my house.

Roasted Squash served with Rosemary-Scented White Beans and a BLT Salad with Bacon-Infused Croutons

2 butternut squash
1 T. brown sugar
½ t. ground ginger
Salt and pepper

4 c. canned white beans of your choice (navy, cannellini)
3 stalks fresh rosemary
2 large cloves of garlic, smashed
Salt and pepper

Lettuce
Tomatoes
4 slices bacon
Stale bread
Salad Dressing (I usually use a basic oil and vinegar, but a mayonnaise one would probably be good)

Night One:
Preheat oven to 425°F. Slice squash lengthwise and place it cut side down in a large baking pan. Fill pan with water to a depth of about ½“. Place in oven and bake for about 30 minutes. Remove from oven, drain out water, and place squash cut side up in pan. Combine brown sugar and ginger and sprinkle on top of the squash. Sprinkle some salt and pepper on them too. Return to oven and roast till almost squishy.

Meanwhile, rinse beans and place in a large saucepan. Add water to cover, rosemary, garlic, salt, and pepper to taste and bring to a gentle simmer.

Cube your stale bread and, if it is soft, place on a baking sheet and toast in the oven for a few minutes (you don’t need 2 ovens. Use the same one that has the squash in it). Remove bread and place bacon on baking sheet. Return to oven and let bacon roast for 10 minutes. Depending upon the thickness of your bacon, it may be done. If it is a thicker cut, it may require more time to crisp up. Drain bacon on paper towels, let cool, and then break into small-ish pieces.

Meanwhile, place bread cubes on baking sheet and toss with the bacon fat. Taste and add salt if you think it needs it (I use garlic salt which is probably un-cool, but I like it). Place baking sheet in oven and toast up the bread cubes for about 5 minutes.

Wash lettuce and place in a salad bowl. Slice tomatoes and add them. Sprinkle with bacon pieces and bacon-infused bread croutons.  If you don’t eat meat, then I guess you’d better make a different salad.  I always like one with dried cranberries, chevre, and toasted pecans.  Or sliced pear, blue cheese, and toasted walnuts.

Drain beans and remove rosemary and garlic. Slice squash into 1” wide crescents. Serve the beans and squash with the salad.Bacon Croutons

Night Two:

Spicy Coconut Milk Squash Soup

Hopefully you have leftover squash and beans. For my family of three I would definitely have leftovers. You may need to adjust the amounts of the first night dinner when you are preparing it so that you do have leftovers.

Cooked butternut squash
White beans
Coconut-Almond milk beverage (or the more common light coconut milk in a can)
Green vegetable of your choice (I would probably do another salad)
Crusty bread (I make the famous no-knead bread that Jim Lahey invented and Mark Bittman published in the New York Times. If you haven’t made it, I highly recommend it. It is the easiest bread recipe I’ve ever seen and the best—how often does that happen?)

Peel squash and cut into chunks. Place squash, about 1 cup beans and 1 cup coconut milk beverage in a blender. Whirl until smooth. I like spiciness so I would also add a sprinkle of cayenne, but others may want to omit it. Add more coconut milk or vegetable broth to get a soupy consistency. Heat gently and serve with your vegetable and crusty bread.

Note on the Coconut-Almond Milk: Most of the time I use Almond Breeze.  However, I have tried Califia’s Coconut-Almond Milk and it is tastier.  I don’t buy it on a regular basis as it is pricier and not available in the shelf-stable boxes.  But it really is divine and is superior for making things like caramel sauce (yes, it is possible and it tastes great!)

Note: I have started cooking my own beans these days instead of using canned ones. I do this for a few reasons. First, because I am trying to avoid the BPAs used in most canning processes (some organic canned or boxed beans are BPA-free but they are dreadfully expensive). Second, I can control the consistency of the beans that way. Sometimes I want them firm, sometimes I want them squishy. Third, I can add flavor while cooking them and reduce the presence of the sugar in beans (oroligosaccharides) that causes gas. If you would like to try doing the same, see below:

Rinse dry beans in water and then set to soak in a pot with a couple of inches of water to cover. Let sit overnight. Drain and rinse beans. Return to pot, cover with water by a couple of inches, and add any seasonings you might like (e.g. rosemary sprigs, cloves of garlic) and a pinch of epazote (this is your magic herb that reduces gas!). Bring to a boil and then lower the heat so it simmers. Different beans take different lengths of time to cook. If they are older they will take longer. Usually 1 hour is a good bet. Drain, discard epazote, and the beans are ready to be served or used in some other recipe.

Note on epazote: I had a dickens of a time getting a hold of this. Once, my friend Katherine Kagel who owns Cafe Pasqual’s in Santa Fe was coming to visit and she asked what she could bring. So I asked her if she could get me some epazote. She delivered! I thought she might be able to since she lives in bean-cooking country and she is a goddess. Now I know that you can get it at Spicely and probably lots of other places if you look on the internet, but I wanted to be sure to get the real deal as I wasn’t looking for it just for taste purposes, but also for its special “carminative” properties. Otherwise, what’s the point?

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