Smokey bacon gives flavor and depth to a simple pasta dish including white beans and kale. It’s the perfect, comforting dish for a cold winter’s night and was slurped up by my family with relish. Inspired by similar Italian dishes, I love the contrast between the creamy white beans, the smokey bacon, the smooth pasta and the flavorful kale.
Why do we think that Italian pasta is centered around tomato sauces (though I do love marinara sauce)? There is a wide variety of sauces just waiting to be explored by the curious cook.
Two notes on the ingredients. Kale can vary in cooking time according to size and type. Keep that in mind. I used lacinato kale (also known as dinosaur kale, or Italian heirloom kale) after a consultation with my the produce lady at my local New Seasons store. If you can find it, use it is as it is not quite as tough and easier to cook.
Bacon. I always use nitrate free bacon. As I currently can have no cane sugar products, it has been challenging to find a bacon that is free from cane sugar products. While bacon is not a mainstay of our diet, we enjoy it once in a while. So it’s nice to have a brand that I can actually eat! I used Organic Prairie’s Hardwood Smoked Bacon for this project (it’s sweetened with honey). It’s one of the best bacons I’ve tried. It tastes real, with a very nice smokey taste. But regardless, buy a high quality, nice and smokey bacon for this recipe.
White Bean and Kale Pasta with Smokey Bacon
1 cup of white beans, soaked over night
1 1/2 cups of cooking water from the beans (add broth or water, if you don’t have enough)
1 bunch of kale
4-6 slices of bacon
12 ounces of penne pasta (I used brown rice pasta)
1 onion, peeled and chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
Sea Salt and Pepper
1-Rinse the soaked beans, and place in a pot with new water covering it. Bring to a low simmer and simmer until just soft. (1 to 1 1/2 hours). Make sure that the beans stay covered with water while cooking. Drain beans, saving the cooking water.
2- Start a large pot of water for your pasta. In a large saucepan, cook the bacon over medium heat. If using organic prairie’s bacon, I will sometimes have to add just a bit of olive oil at the beginning. Remove cooked bacon, and pour out extra grease, leaving several tablespoons of bacon grease in the pan.
3-Add the chopped onions to the bacon grease, and cook on low heat for five minutes, to give the onions a head start in cooking. Then add the kale, bringing heat up of medium high, and stirring occasionally. When the kale seems fairly wilted, add the garlic and cook for a minute longer. This is a good point to start your pasta cooking, salting the water before adding the pasta. Cook according to the package’s instructions.
4-Add the beans and the cooking water to the saucepan. Bring to a low simmer and allow to simmer for about 5-10 minutes, to allow the flavors to meld and the kale to soften to desired texture. At this point you will want to salt and pepper it to taste. Remember that when cooking from scratch you need to salt your dish more (pre-packaged food already has a lot of salt added to it).
5-To serve, pour your drained pasta into a large bowl. Follow that with the sauce, gently mix until the noodles are well coated. Crumble your cooked bacon on top, and grind a little more pepper on top. It’s ready to serve! You can also serve with grated parmigiana reggiano cheese.