6 April 2014

My Canadian Love Affair with Fettuccine Carbonara with Peameal Bacon

Fettuccine Carbonara with Peameal Bacon

Today continues our exploration into finding our roots with The Canadian Food Experience Project which began in June, 2013.  With weddings and work I am several months behind but I may catch up. My Canadian Love Affair was Februarys challenge. As participants in this project we have been sharing our collective stories from coast to coast through our regional food experiences on the 7th of each month. This story and the recipe below continues my year long challenge from Valerie of A Canadian Foodie called The Canadian Food Experience Project. Valerie was one of the lucky few who attended the very first Canadian Food Bloggers Conference north of Toronto in April of last year. Her experience inspired her to dig deep within herself, to discover what it meant to be a Canadian in our melting pot of food culture.

She has challenged us to find our truly Canadian voice and connect with each other coast to coast through food, stories and experiences. The hope is that we will discover our truly Canadian voice and identity in this diverse country as we share our discoveries. By recounting local experiences such as this we are able to be inspired by the amazingness of other people, the world around us, and a sense of place. You can’t help but come out the other end loving what is unique about yourself. Through this exercise we will find our own individual – not to mention collective – voice.  After a year of discovery we will hear ourselves a little more clearly. 

When asked what foods I consider truly Canadian my heart lingers on butter tarts, maple syrup, tourtiere, Habitant Pea soup, Caesars (Bloody Caesars of course), and peameal bacon. When I travel I always enjoy visiting the local farmers markets. They are a window into the heart and soul of every region and community across the country. Granville Market in Vancouver for the best wild salmon burger, ByWard Market in Ottawa for Beaver Tails, and St. Lawrence Market in Toronto (and pretty much every fall fair, farmers market and small town in Ontario) for Peameal Bacon on a Bun…oh... and apple fritters too!!!


"This tree, which grows in our valleys, on our rocks...

grows fast, and when it is tall and strong,

does not fear storms and overcomes the North wind which is unable to shake it.

 The Maple is king of our forest;

it is the emblem of the Canadian people".

- Denis-Benjamin Viger


I was born and spent the first 19 years of my life in Cambridge, Ontario, Canada, where I ate peameal bacon weekly, if not daily. Mom would fry these lean thin slices with some tomatoes and crumpets/pikelets or potato scones at least once a week. It was THE breakfast staple along with a rib-sticking bowl of porridge.

As with so many foods that we grew up with, the importance of this one goes way beyond the actual bacon itself and is one of those comfort foods we talk about so often. Peameal for me symbolizes breakfast around the table with the entire family, summer at the cottage in Ontario, and all that goes with it... no school, new friends, and so on. I remember having Peameal Bacon Sandwiches at the fall fair, the Elmira Maple Syrup Festival, the St. Jacobs Farmers Market, or at the beach at Wasaga. They would take a large hunk, anywhere from 2 to 3 pounds, and slice it not too thin and not too thick. They would then grill it over medium heat so it stays just ever so pink in the center and the cornmeal coating and external fat would grill up nice and crispy. It would be served on a soft Kaiser roll slathered with mayonnaise, and topped with iceberg lettuce and slices of summer sun-ripened tomatoes. Oh, and a few thin slices of Canadian cheddar would be acceptable too. Sheer heaven and such a wonderful foodie memory related to my childhood!!!!

Real Canadian back bacon in my humble opinion, also known as peameal bacon, is a form of meat unknown anywhere outside the country. Ask anyone in Canada to describe "true" Canadian bacon (at least those in Eastern Canada), and they will tell you “peameal bacon.” Peameal bacon is an Ontario specific speciality, and is only sporadically available elsewhere across the country. When I moved West peameal bacon was unheard of and was unavailable until one day I was delighted to find it at Costco. We will convert these Westerners yet to the true Canadian Bacon!!!! The last time I was in Ontario for my nieces wedding I travelled with only a carryon. On the way back home I had to purchase a suitcase for all of the local potato scones, maple syrup and pea meal bacon I was bringing back home. I kid you not!!! Seriously, all you have to do is talk to a couple of Canadians from Ontario and you start to realize that pea meal bacon and pea meal bacon sandwiches, while pretty much unknown elsewhere, are about the equivalent there of pastrami in Manhattan or cheese steaks in Philadelphia. A peameal bacon sandwich is straightforward. Just a stack of thickly cut peameal bacon on a Kaiser bun, and perhaps a topping or two. 

Of course I am a lover of  bacon in all it's forms. The term bacon on its own refers generically to strip bacon from the belly meat of the pig, which is the most popular type of bacon sold in Canada as well. It is also not something I choose to eat too often being high in fat content, but it sure is delicious!!!!Back bacon comes from the loin in the middle of the back of the pig. It is a very lean, meaty cut of bacon, with less fat compared to other cuts so therefore better for you so that you can consume it on a more regular basis. It has a ham-like texture. Most bacon consumed in the United Kingdom is back bacon which is probably why my own mom prefered this type of bacon as the best choice over any other to serve to her family (except of course my dad who has always been a vegetarian). It is also referred to as Irish bacon or Canadian Bacon.The term back bacon is again a generic term used interchangeably to describe either smoked or unsmoked back bacon. 

Peameal bacon is a boneless cured pork loin rolled in cornmeal, not what is commonly known in the United States and elsewhere as "Canadian Bacon" which is basically a smoked ham...needless to say, the taste and texture of the two are totally different... but let's face it bacon of any kind is delicious. It is made from pork loins weighing 12-14 Lb. They are trimmed of all the fat and the bones are removed. It is a very lean, meaty cut of bacon, with less fat compared to other cuts so therefore better for you so that you can consume it on a more regular basis. The term peameal comes from the ground yellow peas with which the bacon was originally coated around the 1920’s. This ensured better curing and shelf life and avoided bacterial problems. Over the years this tradition was changed to cornmeal, due to the availability of corn. Usually it is sliced and fried for breakfast but it is also excellent baked whole. The cornmeal makes a crisp exterior and the meat, although quite lean, is particularly juicy, because of the curing process. You have to search a little harder to find bacon that has that real old fashioned taste. Usually it means heading out to a country market in "Mennonite Country" in the direction of Kitchener and St. Jacobs, going to the St Lawrence Farmers Market in Toronto on a Saturday morning or befriending a specialty butcher who has contact with a local pig farmer and a good smoke house. I picked some up in Heidelberg the last time I was in Ontario for my nieces wedding and brought it back home to my kitchen in British Columbia.  I had my fill of monarch butterflies, chip trucks, brick houses, waving cornfields and pioneer fences...and of course peameal bacon!

I have had many a peameal bacon sandwich in my life time, but today I wanted to take a different route. A very Canadian route and transform a quintessential Italian dish which normally uses pancetta or guanciale found in Italy and use pea meal bacon. I am talking about Carbonara. A true carbonara with no cream in sight.

**Light Fettuccine Carbonara with Peameal Bacon**

 3/4 cup Parmegiano Regianno 
2 eggs, preferably organic
1 cup frozen peas
350g (enough to serve 4) spaghetti, fettuccine of taggliatelli
1 tablespoon olive oil
100g lean peameal bacon, chopped into small pieces
2 plump garlic cloves, finely chopped
handful snipped chives

Bring a large saucepan of water to a boil with a pinch of salt. Then get everything ready. 

Grate the cheese and beat the eggs in a bowl with a little pepper. Cook the peas in boiling water for 2-3 mins, drain and set aside.

Cook the spaghetti to al dente following pack instructions. While the spaghetti is cooking, heat the oil in a large, deep frying or sauté pan. Fry the bacon for several mins until it starts to go crisp. Stir in the garlic and cook briefly until pale brown. Tip in the peas and if the spaghetti isn’t quite ready, keep warm over a very low heat.

When the pasta is done, take the pan with the bacon in off the heat. Lift the spaghetti out of its pan with a pair of tongs and drop it into the frying pan with the garlic, bacon and peas. Mix most of the cheese into the eggs, keeping back a handful of cheese for sprinkling over each serving. Quickly pour in the eggs and cheese, lifting and stirring with the tongs so everything mixes well and the spaghetti gets coated. Ladle in some more of the pasta water, enough to coat the spaghetti and create a bit of sauce in the pan.

Spoon or twirl the pasta into shallow serving bowls using a long pronged fork. Serve immediately with a sprinkling of the reserved cheese, some snipped chives and a grating of black pepper.

Recipe from Good Food magazine, September 2011

You are reading this post on More Than Burnt Toast at http://morethanburnttoast.blogspot.com. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to the author/owner of More Than Burnt Toast. All rights reserved by Valerie Harrison. Best Blogger Tips


  1. Good old Peameal. For us it was a rare treat growing up - Christmas day was about it. When I went to university in Waterloo it became a more common thing on the table.

    It amazes me whenever I am in the US and see so-called Canadian bacon for sale. I want to pull out a Sharpie and connect the sign with a big 'NOT'!

  2. What lovely places. Dreamlike...

    These fettuccine sound and look wonderful! Great flavors.



  3. What a wonderful article. Your photographs are glorious, but I was particularly intrigued by your discussion of peameal bacon. It is entirely new tome. Thanks for the enlightenment.

  4. Well, you've introduce many of us to something new. I've never heard of peameal bacon. No doubt, my pig lovin' men would lie this. Your pasta looks so creamy and dreamy.

  5. Lovely post and photos of your gorgeous locale.

  6. I love fettuccini Val.lovey post!
    How are you doing?

  7. Who doesn't love a good carbonara?! Yours looks great?

  8. I cannot wait to try peameal bacon one day, Val. :-) Your recipe sounds marvelously comforting and creamy. :-)

  9. What a lovely place. Peameal bacon is new to me, but from the sound of it, it could quickly become a favorite at our house.

  10. Great post, Val. I have never heard the term "peameal bacon" but my mom used to serve Canadian bacon often and I buy it for eggs benedict. This pasta recipe sounds delicious.

  11. Hi Val, this reminded me that I once asked at an Italian restaurant to leave the bacon out of the carbonara (I am vegetarian) and they refused...I guess it is all in the bacon.
    Love the new look of the site, the logo etc. Well done.

  12. I have never heard of peameal bacon, so this is has been a very informative post. Love all of your photos and love, love carbonara with any kind of bacon. Had it once with Speck, a true Italian bacon. Thanks Val.

  13. The real Italian Carbonara is without cream. I really appreciate this recipe because you used Parmesan and NOT cream, plus you have added a bit of pasta water in the end! I don't come up with authentic Italian recipes very often... thanks for sharing a beautiful one!

  14. On the farm my parents never had peameal bacon. This is a post that gives me a lot of information about it. Your fettuccine looks very good.

  15. Lovely post and photos of your gorgeous locale.


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