Sunday Night Feast: A Celebration of FAT

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Those of you that follow me on Twitter have probably noticed that I have been on the hunt for the one Christmas present that I didn’t get….a copy of Thomas Keller’s cookbook, Ad Hoc At Home. I typically resort to the great cookbook in the sky, the internet, to get most of my recipes or inspiration when I am cooking. But I think there is a lot to be said for those recipes that you can’t find out there on the web, and they are usually housed in the top cookbooks on the market.

Unfortunately, Keller’s book seems to be in high demand. As of right now, the earliest ship date on Amazon.com is the beginning of February. So, I figured my best shot would be finding one locally. Well, this past weekend I had some kitchen gear to return to Sur La Table and had my fingers crossed I could finally get my hands on the unicorn that is Ad Hoc At Home.

Sadly, they too were sold out. But the lord works in mysterious ways.

While in the cookbook section I found myself eerily drawn to one book in particular- FAT: An Appreciate of a Misunderstood Ingredient, with Recipes by Jennifer McLagan. (Published by Ten Speed Press. Amazon link HERE.)

The title, along with the wonderful fatty photography on the cover, spoke to me. This is MY KIND of cookbook.

Cooking with animal fat has fallen out of favor in western society, specifically in America’s misguided health-crazed culture. Fat has become “the enemy”. Or rather, natural fat has. People demonize natural fat in favor of overly processed, hydrogenated, artificially sweetened, chemical-laden crap that we think is healthier. I actually hid the title of my new cookbook from my guests until after they’d eaten in order to avoid distracting them from fully enjoying the meal. It worked.

What McLagan asserts is that we have forgotten the joy and intensity of flavor that cooking with REAL fat can actually bring to a dish. For example, she elegantly titles her first chapter “Butter: Worth It”. She couldn’t be more right.

Normally, I only post recipes that are either original or adapted enough to pass as “original”, but I feel compelled to showcase some of the recipes from this wonderful book. I may make a series out of cooking these recipes, as I have already indentified about 15 more that I HAVE to try.

For this weeks’ Sunday Night Feast, I prepared four of McLagan’s recipes: Pumpkin and Bacon soup, Duck Fat Potatoes, Prosciutto Wrapped Halibut, and her Hot Bacon dressing. The dressing is published with a dandelion salad, but I put together an Arugula and Blood-Orange salad instead. The arugula was still bitter enough to wonderfully contrast the Hot Bacon Dressing. The spirit of the recipe was kept intact; that dressing just begs for bitter greens.

For today’s post I’m going to focus on the Pumpkin and Bacon soup.

Jennifer graciously agreed to allow me to publish her recipe in this post (thanks!). The beauty of this soup lies in its simplicity. As you can see, there are not many ingredients that go into it, yet the base of bacon fat helps to create rich and complex flavors. The actual technique is not that difficult either, so this is a process I would encourage any home cook to try if you have not.

Pumpkin and Bacon soup

Adapted from FAT by Jennifer McLagan.

*additions in italics

½ lb slab bacon Ok…maybe I used more than that. More like 3/4 lbs.

1 large onion, sliced

1 large sprig sage

1 hubbard squash or other firm, dry pumpkin or winter squash (about 3/12 lbs)

8 cups water I swapped out a cup with some chicken stock…I had some handy that I needed to use, and why the hell not?

Coarse sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

½-1 tsp dried thyme

¾ cup heavy cream

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First, peel and slice your pumpkin into halves and scoop out all of the seeds and stringy insides.

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Cut the pumpkin into evenly sized pieces.

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Next, slice up your onions and celery and sage.

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Dice the bacon and place in a stock pot. Cook over low heat to begin rendering the liquid gold (pork fat).

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Cook until browned and most of the bacon fat has rendered from the meat.

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Sauté the veggies until softened.

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Don’t waste the layer of browned badassness at the bottom of the pot. Deglaze with 1 cup of water, scraping it all up. Then add the remaining 7 cups. Add the pumpkin pieces, season with salt and pepper, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat, cover, and simmer for 40 minutes or so.

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Remove the pot from heat and allow to cool for a few minutes. Once cooled, blend the soup (in batches if necessary) until you reach an even consistency. An immersion blender is ideal for the job, but a food processor will work as well.

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As you can tell by the column of steam coming off this one, I didn’t have time to wait. That won’t be a problem…it just makes standing over it a little painful. Suck it up. You can deal.

At this point you want to taste the soup and adjust seasoning to your liking. I wound up adding more salt and pepper as well as some dried thyme and ¾ cup of heavy cream to thicken the soup.

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You can garnish each serving as you like. I topped each bowl with some crispy bacon pieces and chopped fresh parsley for color.

*Editors note – 1/5/09: If you have extra, don’t even think about throwing it away. This stuff makes amazing leftovers. 1-2 days later it tastes even better.

Though all 4 dishes went over very well, the soup was the crowd favorite. Here are some shots from the rest of the meal:

Duck Fat Potatoes

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Prosciutto Wrapped Halibut w/ Sage Butter Sauce

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Arugula and Blood-Orange salad w/ McLagan’s Hot Bacon Dressing.

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So, it looks like Keller can wait just a little bit longer. I have only begun to scratch the surface of this celebration of the single most important ingredient in cooking.

If you are in the market for a good cookbook, I’d definitely recommend looking into this one. But if you can’t remember the last time you used REAL butter, or god-forbid, bacon fat to cook a meal, stop reading this and buy it right now.

Thank me later.

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2 Comments

  1. Posted January 5, 2010 at 10:19 am | Permalink

    Hello Jon,
    So glad you like FAT – you might want to check out my first book BONES sometime. I found your photos interesting – they show me how people use and interpret my recipes. I like the idea of cream and thyme (I probably would have used fresh) in the soup. The salad looks good too, I love blood oranges and I’m sure with the arugula they were a perfect contrast to the dressing. Let me know how the other recipes you try work out.
    Nice to meet you via the internet.
    Jennifer

    • Posted January 6, 2010 at 1:13 am | Permalink

      I would have loved to use fresh thyme, but it was a last minute addition and I had to make do with dried.

      I actually ate another bowl of this for a midnight snack tonight. It is 18 degrees here right now, so it was perfect.

      Thanks for the comment and the kind words! And keep up the good work!

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