Friday, August 16, 2013

Ravioli with Peas, Bacon and Lemon Oil

Last Year's Post: Summer Pasta Salad with Fresh Tuna

Pet peeve #352:  thick-cut bacon.  Why all of a sudden is thick-cut bacon the hot trend?  You can hardly find regular bacon any more.  I was watching TV the other day and no less than celebrity chef Ina Garten was gushing about her thick-cut bacon adding a nice chew to her salad.  I don't know about you, but any time "chewy" and "meat" are in the same sentence I don't think that's a good thing.  I can't think of a single meat where "chewy" is the desired texture, particularly bacon. To add insult to injury, we were having breakfast at a new restaurant this weekend and the server asked me if I wanted my bacon crispy.  Yay, someone gets it!   In retrospect I should have known that if they have to ask, something is wrong.   I received a slab of bacon that was at least 1/2" thick and fried until it should no longer be called bacon.  Pork jerky or shoe leather would better describe the looks and taste.  After one or two bites I quit because I was afraid I was going to crack a tooth.  Moral of the story - bacon should thin and crisp, period.  OK, end of rant.  I feel better now.

Anyway, I like to try recipes that contain either an ingredient or a technique that's new to me, partly to expand my horizons but mostly just because I have an incurable curiosity streak.  This recipe contains a new ingredient that also involves a new technique:  lemon-infused olive oil.  While it's true that you can buy any number of olive oils infused with various flavors, there are several compelling reasons to make your own.  First, it will be much fresher.  Second, you can customize it to your taste.  And third, infused oils are very expensive to buy.  A bottle of infused oil will probably run somewhere around $10 if it's decent quality.  Using my Costco extra-virgin olive oil and one lemon, I made a cup of lemon oil for slightly over $1.  Not bad.

One thing you need to know is that you should start one day in advance because the oil needs to steep for 24 hours.  The other thing you should know is that it's important to remove the rinds after 24 hours and store the oil in your refrigerator for food safety reasons.  I once made a big batch of garlic oil and stored it in my pantry, only to read several weeks later that botulism can develop under those conditions.  I was sad to throw the entire batch out but happy that I hadn't tried it in the meantime.

The infused oil is very easy to make.  Remove the outer rind (no pith) of a lemon with a vegetable peeler,  then warm the olive oil and rind over low heat for ten minutes.  Cool and place the rind and oil in a clean glass covered container in the refrigerator for 24 hours.  Remove and strain out the rinds, then place the oil back in the container.  Kept refrigerated, the oil will keep for up to a month.

The lemon oil serves as the sauce for this easy and quick pasta dish.  You might not normally associate crunch with pasta, but there is definitely a crunch factor here from the (crisp!) bacon and the toasted pepitas.  If you can't find pepitas, toasted chopped walnuts would be equally good.

You'll have lemon oil left over after you make this dish, so here are some ideas for how to use it.
  • Drizzled over cooked vegetables
  • Salad dressings
  • Over any cooked or grilled fish
  • As a dipping sauce for bread (add any fresh or dried herbs you like)
  • Drizzled on top of hummus 
  • In cold pasta salads
This dish is very light and fresh-tasting and comes together in the time it takes to cook the pasta (assuming you made the lemon oil in advance), so it makes a great weeknight meal.

printable recipe
Ravioli with Peas, Bacon and Lemon Oil
Serves 2-3

3 slices of bacon
1 9 ounce package refrigerated cheese ravioli
½ cup frozen peas, thawed
1/3 cup daikon sprouts (or other sprouts or micro-greens)
Lemon-infused olive oil (see recipe below)
¼ cup roasted pepitas (pumpkin seeds)
Salt and freshly ground pepper

Chop the bacon into ½” wide pieces and fry in a skillet until golden and crisp.  Remove to paper towels to drain. 

Cook ravioli according to directions.  While the ravioli is cooking, cook the peas according to directions.

When the ravioli is done, drain in a colander and transfer to a medium bowl.  Toss with a tablespoon or two of lemon oil, then transfer to individual bowls. Top with peas, bacon, sprouts, and pepitas. Drizzle with a little additional lemon oil, then add salt and pepper to taste.

Lemon-Infused Olive Oil
1 lemon
1 cup good-quality extra-virgin olive oil

Scrub the lemon well under running water and dry thoroughly.  Using a vegetable peeler, peel the outer skin only (no white pith) of the lemon.  Place the lemon peel and olive oil in a small saucepan and heat slowly over low heat for 10 minutes, until the peel begins to sizzle.  Remove from the heat and let cool.

Transfer the olive oil and lemon peel to a clean glass container and cover tightly.  Refrigerate for 24 hours.  After 24 hours, strain out the lemon peel and return the lemon oil to the jar.  Refrigerate for up to a month.  When ready to use, remove the amount needed from the jar and allow to come to room temperature before using.

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