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Bacon and breadcrumbs give this pantry-friendly pasta a delightful crunch

This pantry-friendly recipe leaves lots of room to use what you have on hand.  (Scott Suchman/For The Washington Post)
This pantry-friendly recipe leaves lots of room to use what you have on hand. (Scott Suchman/For The Washington Post)
By Ann Maloney Washington Post

I am in the business of testing and sharing recipes, but there are times when breakfast, lunch or dinner at my house is the result of a quick scan of the refrigerator and pantry shelves.

On a recent Sunday morning, I made an omelet with feta, a couple of wilting green onions and a bit of jarred chili crisp. For dinner one recent night, we ate salmon canned in oil over mixed fresh greens with sliced bell pepper and cucumber and a carrot-ginger dressing. Why? Because I had everything that I needed to make those things in the refrigerator and pantry.

And the dishes came together quickly.

So, when I looked through cookbook author Amanda Frederickson’s “Simple Beautiful Food” (Ten Speed Press, 2020), I felt I had found a kindred spirit. Her “choose your own adventure” style of recipe writing is perfect for those weeknights when quick-and-easy is the first criteria.

She gathered such recipes for her “fridge foraging” posts on Instagram, some of which you also can find on her website. A version of the recipe featured in this week’s column first appeared in that series.

For the bucatini with cauliflower and bacon, which is in the cookbook, the only thing I had to buy to make it was the bucatini, but I could have made this with any pasta I had on hand. No cauliflower? Use another favorite vegetable such as fresh or frozen broccoli.

You boil the pasta and, while it is boiling, fry the bacon, and then use the bacon fat to cook the onion and cauliflower. Toss the pasta and vegetables with freshly grated Parmesan, hot pasta water and lemon, and top that with a crunchy topping you can throw together in minutes: The topping is simply crisped bacon mixed with lightly browned breadcrumbs and lemon zest. Add a few fresh parsley leaves on top if you like.

That little crisped topping idea is one I’ve since carried over to other dishes. I love finding hidden gems like that in recipes that I add to my repertoire.

Frederickson includes a chapter of them that she calls “Flavor Gold.” It features super-simple recipes that allow you to quickly add flavor and texture to dishes.

I made one of them, a garlic confit: Peel three heads of garlic, place them in a pan, cover them with 11/2 cups of olive oil and slow roast them at 250 degrees for two hours. They can then be stored in the refrigerator for 1 week.

I have since tossed that garlic in with butter and made scrumptious pan-seared chicken thighs, mashed it and added it to eggs I was whisking for a frittata, and spread it on toast for making tartines.

Each quick and easy, pantry-friendly dish got a garlicky flavor boost from a bit of “flavor gold.” Now, to make garlic bread!

Lemony Bucatini With Cauliflower and Bacon

Adapted from “Simple Beautiful Food” by Amanda Frederickson (Ten Speed Press, 2020).

8 ounces bucatini pasta

Kosher salt (optional)

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for pasta

4 strips thick-cut bacon, cut into 1-inch pieces

1 small white or yellow onion (about 5 ounces), diced

1 small head cauliflower (2 pounds), cut into bite-size florets

1 lemon

¼ cup panko breadcrumbs

½ cup (about 2 ounces) freshly grated Parmesan cheese, plus more for serving

¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes, plus more to taste

2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves, plus more for serving

In a large pot over medium-high heat, bring 2 quarts of water to a boil. Add salt, if desired. Cook the pasta in the boiling water according to package directions, until al dente.

While the pasta is boiling, prepare a towel-lined plate and place it near the stove. In a large, lidded skillet, at least 12 inches wide, over medium heat, heat the oil until it is shimmering.

Add the bacon and cook until crispy, stirring occasionally, about 5 minutes. Transfer the bacon to the prepared plate. Transfer all but about 2 tablespoons of the bacon fat to a bowl and set aside.

When the pasta is cooked, reserve 1 cup of the cooking water and drain. Drizzle the drained pasta with 1 to 2 teaspoons of olive oil and, using tongs or a wooden spoon, toss and coat the pasta with the oil.

Add the onion and cauliflower to the large skillet. Mix to coat with bacon fat, reduce the heat to low, cover and cook for about 10 minutes. Increase the heat to medium, uncover and cook, stirring occasionally, until the cauliflower is fork tender with a few dark spots, 8 to 10 minutes. The food should be sizzling, but do not burn the onions.

While the cauliflower is cooking, zest and juice the lemon.

In a small skillet over medium heat, add the reserved bacon fat and heat until shimmering. Add the breadcrumbs, crumbled bacon and lemon zest and cook, stirring, until the breadcrumbs turn just a shade darker, about 2 minutes. Remove from the heat.

Once the cauliflower is cooked, add the lemon juice to the skillet and scrape up any bits stuck to the bottom of the pan. Add the cooked pasta and ½ cup of the reserved pasta water, again scraping up any stuck bits.

Stir in the cheese and crushed red pepper flakes, and toss and stir the pasta until lightly coated and the vegetables are distributed. Add more pasta water, 1 tablespoon at a time, if the mixture is too dry.

Serve the pasta family-style in a large, shallow bowl or platter topped with the breadcrumb mixture as well as torn parsley leaves and grated Parmesan, if using.

Yield: 2 to 4 servings

Note: If you prefer a vegetarian version, substitute caramelized onions for the bacon and diced onion. In a large skillet over medium-low heat, add 3 tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil, 2 thinly sliced white onions and a large pinch of salt.

Stir until the onions are coated with oil. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions are soft and golden brown, 45 to 55 minutes. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 1 week.

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