|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. 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.
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
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
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