The whole bacon trend has been a struggle for me.
It's not that I dislike bacon or that I have something against the ingestion of little piggies who are supposed to go wee wee all the way home. On the contrary, I find the slick pork substance rather delectable. I love the textural contrast and overtly meaty flavor it adds to an egg sandwich, go gaga for it when it's wrapped around a cheese-stuffed date and broiled into a state of sweet submission, and will happily sprinkle the crunchy, caramelized bits over risotto or my mom's Coq au vin.
I'm totally on board with the King of Cured Meats when it makes sense in a dish.
Because as much as I enjoy the occasional strip of porky goodness, I can't completely disassociate it from its negative connotations. I can't help but think of it as fatty and bad for me -- the cowboy with the black cowboy hat so to speak.
So I try to avoid it. If offered a side of bacon or a side of fruit - I opt for the fruit, and I rarely use it in my cooking unless it's a special occasion.
Or I'm feeling self-indulgent and can't afford to indulge myself with clothes or shoes or a trip to some place other than Orange County to visit my parents.
But sometimes I can't avoid it. And sometimes I shouldn't avoid it, because, even with its nutritional faults, bacon can be the perfect enhancement to a dish -- just like it is to this barley with roasted cauliflower and chickpeas.
The idea for the recipe evolved from another recipe with farro, chickpeas and roasted cauliflower (via Dishing Up Delights). For the first time ever, instead of adding to a recipe, I subtracted, and then made the pivotal decision to bring the whole thing together with that black hat-wearing cowboy I fear so much.
Not only did I sprinkle the rendered bacon bits into the dish just prior to serving, I also used the fat from the bacon to roast the cauliflower and shallots until caramelized. Then, I reserved the remaining grease in my frying pan so I could toast the chickpeas in it until slightly crispy. My actions might sound over the top even to the most baco-cessed, but the few strips of bacon went a long way, imparting a depth of flavor that I believe couldn't have been achieved through any other means. In fact, when I tried skipping the bacon and perking the affair up with a bit of cheese and splash of wine instead, I was sorely disappointed by how bland the dish turned out.
Which got me thinking.
Maybe bacon isn't so bad after all. Because of its potent punch, I didn't need to add any other form of fat to create flavor. No nuts, no cheese, no butter -- just the bacon.
And it was good. No, like actually good. White hat-wearing cowboy good.
Barley with Roasted Cauliflower, Chickpeas and Bacon
1/2 cup barley (or farro), rinsed and cooked in vegetable broth
4 strips thick-cut bacon, cut into pieces (approximately 1/4 lb)
1 cup chickpeas, rinsed and drained
2 large shallots, thinly sliced
3/4 lb cauliflower, sliced into 1/3 inch florets
2 cups arugula
2 tablespoons Sherry Vinegar
Red pepper flakes (optional)
Cook barley in vegetable broth according to package instructions. Set aside. (I usually cook the barley the day before because it takes a good hour or so.)
Meanwhile, preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Heat large frying pan over medium-high heat and add the pieces of bacon. Cook until bacon has released the fat and is slightly crisp. Remove with a slotted spoon and set aside on a paper towel to absorb any excess grease.
Toss sliced cauliflower and shallots into pan with bacon fat. Stir to coat and then transfer to an oven safe glass baking dish. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and roast until tender and caramelized in appearance, approximately 30-35 minutes. (I like a longer cook time here so the cauliflower reaches a kind of a melt-in-your-mouth kind of texture)
While cauliflower and shallots are roasting, re-heat frying pan over medium heat. Add the chickpeas and pan-fry until golden on all sides. Remove from pan and set aside.
When all components are ready, combine barley, cauliflower, shallots and arugula in the pan and return to medium-high heat. Cook together with optional pinch of red pepper flakes until heated through and arugula has wilted. Stir in the sherry vinegar, then the bacon and chickpeas. Serve immediately.