Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Mexican Roasted Tomato and Chorizo Pasta

Mexican Roasted Tomato and Chorizo Pasta

Summer tomatoes are starting to arrive, which means its finally time to switch from cooking with canned tomatoes and using the fresh ones.

My first use of this year's crop involved roasting tomatoes. I bought 6 lbs. of beautiful big red tomatoes from my farmers market and roasted them in two batches (so yes, there will be a second roasted-tomato recipe soon).

Roasted tomatoes have such incredible flavor, both sweeter and more savory than a fresh tomato, if that makes sense. Roasting concentrates a tomato's sweetness while also caramelizing it a bit. When roasting, you want to roast the tomatoes to the point that most of their moisture has evaporated, but you also have to be careful you don't burn them. Since the risk of doing this increases as they cook, I stir the tomatoes with increasing frequency, one per hour for the first couple hours, then every 30 minutes or so, and finally every 10 to 15 minutes until they are done. They're done when they are very shriveled looking and starting to brown around the edges. Any remaining liquid with be thicker and not particularly watery. It's amazing how much the tomatoes will reduce: 3 lb. of quartered tomatoes will fill a large mixing bowl, but the roasted end-result is about 1 cup of tomatoes. Some people skin their tomatoes before roasting them, but I don't mind the skins.

Roasting tomatoes takes hours, but the dishes you make from roasted tomatoes can cook up quickly, like this spicy Mexican take on a simple pasta dish. I like to roast the tomatoes on the weekend and freeze them in batches, so I have them on hand to use during the week. Defrost the night before and you're good to go.

Mexican Roasted Tomato and Chorizo Pasta

1 lb. penne or other dried pasta
1/2 lb. spicy chorizo sausage, removed from casings
1 medium yellow onion, diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 cup or so of simple roasted tomatoes, from 3 lb. of tomatoes (see below)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
2 tsp. dried oregano leaves
2 tsp. ground cumin
1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
Crumbed queso fresco
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro leaves

1. Bring a large pot of salted water to boil. Cook pasta according to package directions 1 minute less than needed for al dente (the pasta will finish cooking in the sauce). Drain the pasta and set aside.

2. Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the chorizo and cook, breaking up with a spoon, until cooked through.

3. Shove the sausage to the edge of the pan and add the onion and garlic and cook until softened, about 6-8 minutes. Add the roasted tomatoes and stir to combine with the other ingredients. Season with salt, pepper, oregano, cumin and cinnamon. As the mixture simmers, reduce heat to medium. Stir in the pasta and cook an additional minute or two until the pasta is coated with sauce and cooked through but still chewy.

4. Serve pasta in shallow bowls topped with crumbled queso fresco and fresh cilantro.

Simple Roasted Tomatoes

3 lb. fresh tomatoes, stem end removed, cut into 1 to 2 inch pieces
2 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil, plus olive oil spray
Kosher salt, to taste

1. Preheat oven to 350 F.

2. Add the tomatoes to a large bowl. Drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with salt and toss to combine. Spray a 9 X 13 baking dish with olive oil. Spread the tomatoes in an even layer in the baking dish.

3. Bake the tomatoes until they have reduced significantly in size, look shrived and are starting to brown around the edges, about 3 to 3 1/2 hours. Stir every hour for the first couple hours, then more frequently, up to every 10 to 15 minutes when you hit the 3-hour mark, to prevent the tomatoes from burning.

4. When done, remove from the oven, allow to cool, then transfer to a container to store in the refrigerator or freezer until ready to use.

Monday, June 27, 2016

Cornmeal Skillet Cake with Strawberries

Cornmeal Skillet Cake with Strawberries

If you've been searching for the perfect summer dessert, the search is over.

This Cornmeal Skillet Cake with Strawberries is amazing! Dorie Greenspan's recipe, recently published in The Washington Post, is a variation on the classic strawberry shortcake. Instead of the shortcake, the dessert's foundation is a wonderfully flavorful corncake baked in a cast-iron skillet and flavored with lemon zest, vanilla and buttermilk.

As good as that cake is, the strawberries are going to make or break this dish, so get the best ones you can, preferably ones that are local and therefore picked ripe. They'll have more flavor than strawberries raised thousands of miles away that are picked under-ripe to "ripen" during transport.

A couple key tips from Dorie: the recipe calls for baking the cake in a 10-inch cast-iron skillet, which I did. If you don't have one, you can use a 9-inch springform pan, but you'll need to bake the cake longer--more like 40 minutes. She also recommends working the lemon zest into the sugar with your fingers until the mixture is fragrant, which infuses the sugar with lemon flavor. A tip from me: I used an ISI cream whipper to make the whipped cream, which is simpler than using a stand mixer and makes it easy (and fun) for you and those you share this with to pump a little more whipped cream on top.

Cornmeal Skillet Cake with Strawberries
Adapted from a recipe by Dorie Greenspan for The Washington Post

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted and cooled, plus more (about 2 tsp.) for greasing the skillet
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup fine yellow cornmeal
1 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt
1 cup plus 3 tbsp. sugar
Finely grated zest of 1 lemon (I used a Microplane to grate the zest)
2 large eggs
2 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 cup regular or low-fat buttermilk (I used low-fat)
1 quart (about 2 lb.) fresh strawberries, hulled (I also sliced mine into 1/8-inch thick slices)
Sweetened whipped cream (see below)

1. Preheat oven to 350 F.

2. Grease a 10-inch cast-iron skillet with the 2 tsp. of unmelted butter.

3. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, cornmeal, baking powder, baking soda and salt.

4. Add the 1 cup sugar and lemon zest to a large mixing bowl. Using your fingers, combine the sugar and lemon zest until the mixture is fragrant. Whisk the eggs, one at a time, into the sugar mixture until well incorporated. Stir in the vanilla extract (you may want to switch to a silicon spatula at this point). Add half the flour mixture and stir until incorporated. Add the buttermilk and stir until evenly mixed. Add the remaining dry ingredients and stir to incorporate. At this point, the batter will be pretty thick, but it should be evenly mixed. Add the melted butter in three batches, stirring to incorporate completely after each addition.

5. Transfer the batter to the cast-iron skillet and smooth the top with a spatula. Sprinkle the top with 1 tbsp. of sugar. Bake in the oven until the cake is golden brown around the edges and starting to pull away from the sides, about 30 to 35 minutes. Test the center with a toothpick to make sure it's baked through (the toothpick should come out clean). Place the cake and the skillet on a wire rack to cool for about 30 minutes before serving.

6. While the cake is baking, sprinkle the remaining 2 tbsp. of sugar over the sliced strawberries and stir to distribute the sugar evenly.

7. To serve: cut the cake into wedges and cut the wedges in half horizontally to make a top and a bottom. Place the bottom on a plate or in a bowl. Top generously with strawberries and whipped cream and lay the top cake piece on top.

Sweetened Whipped Cream

2 tbsp. sugar
2 tsp. vanilla extract
2 cups heavy whipping cream

In a 2-cup measuring cup, combine the sugar and vanilla extract, using a fork. Add a few tablespoons of cream and use the fork to combine it with the sugar. Pour in the remaining cream and stir to combine. Transfer the mixture to an ISI cream whipper, charge with one cream charger (N2O) and chill in the refrigerator until ready to use. Alternatively, after mixing together the ingredients, whip with a stand mixer on high-speed until thick and fluffy (don't overwhip or you'll start to make butter).

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Cocktail: Stormy Mojito

Cocktail: Stormy Mojito

A Mojito is light rum, lime, mint and soda. A Dark & Stormy is dark rum, lime and ginger beer. With you consider this Stormy Mojito a gingery mojito or a minty Dark & Stormy, the idea was to combine what I like about both of these refreshing drinks into one sippable summer tipple.

Cocktail: Stormy Mojito

10-12 mint leaves
1/2 oz. fresh lime juice (juice from 1/2 lime)
1 1/2 oz. dark rum (I used Flor de Caña Gran Reserva)
3 oz. ginger beer (I used Fever Tree)
Mint sprig garnish

In a cocktail shaker, combine the mint and lime juice and gently muddle the mint. Add the rum and dry shake (i.e., with no ice). Fine-strain (i.e., with a fine-mesh sieve) into a collins or highball glass filled with ice, top with ginger beer and serve with a straw garnished with a mint sprig.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Oregon IPA 2016

Oregon IPA 2016

When I tell my East-Coast friends that we always spend a significant portion of our week in Oregon at the beach, they often ask me how the beach in Oregon is different than beaches near D.C. "Completely," is my usual answer. Beach time at Rehoboth Beach is a hotel-lined boardwalk, a groomed sandy beach completely packed with people, lifeguards, and gentle waves dotted with swimmers. We love our time there, but none of those things exist at our Oregon beach. If there's more than 5 other people on the beach it feels crowded. The sand is naturally contoured with driftwood. You can go in the ocean, although I never do, given how cold and powerful it is. Plus there are no lifeguards. There are walks on the beach, evening campfires and mountains in the near distance.

And there is really good local India Pale Ale (IPA). We always make a point to stock up on bottles (or cans) that we've never tried before to see if we can discover a new favorite. It's been 2 years since we did this tasting, since we weren't in Oregon last year. Our 2012 favorite was Ninkasi Total Domination IPA, which we included in our 2013 and 2014 tastings. We didn't include Ninkasi this year, but for a very good reason: it's now available on the East Coast! Yes, I can buy all the Ninkasi I want at Whole Foods now, and it's become our go-to IPA. Deschutes Brewery's Chasin' Freshies fresh-hop IPA bested our 2013 tasting. And in 2014, our champion was Laurelwood Brewing Company's Workhorse IPA. Laurelwood returned to our slate this year, along with three new options. On to the tasting!

We had our first Laurelwood Brewing Co. IPAs at the Blue Heron French Cheese Company, our favorite lunch spot in Tillamook. We sampled two of them, our 2014 favorite, Workhorse IPA, and a new one, Green Elephant IPA. Upon our initial sampling, Green Elephant IPA was our favorite of the two. According to Laurelwood's site, Green Elephant has a "mellow malt character," which was definitely true. It has that clean, fresh even citrusy taste that lets the hops really shine. In contrast, Workhorse has a more balanced hop-malt profile and a touch of sweetness. That said, Workhorse was available at Fred Meyer, so we picked up a six-pack. The more we drank it through the week, the more we actually realized that it was a our favorite. It's got a good happiness, but it's refreshing too, the kind of IPA that works great in warm or cool weather.

Worthy IPA from Worthy Brewing Company was good, but probably our least favorite of this group.  It's not as muscular an IPA as I like, but it has a nicely balanced flavor. Better, but still not a favorite was Cyclops IPA from Cascade Lakes Brewing Company, which was decently hoppy but not overly so.

Our other favorite this year is Vortex IPA from Fort George Brewery. This is brewed in Astoria, Oregon, which is about an hour's drive from our beach house. This beer has a nice hop intensity, exactly what I like, while managing to stay very drinkable. It comes a 16-oz. can, so you get a little extra (or it's perfect for splitting if you're going to have a few). It was an ideal accompaniment to our Upper Crust Pizza.

Favorite: A tie between Laurelwood Workhorse IPA and Fort George Vortex IPA.


Tasting of Oregon Craft Ales (2012)

A Second Round of Oregon IPAs (2013)

Tasting of Oregon IPAs, 2014

Monday, June 20, 2016

All Betts Are Off Cocktail

All Betts Are Off Cocktail

I've shared a number of cocktails that combine smoky mezcal with herbal-sweet yellow Chartreuse. You can find them in the related links below. The All Betts Are Off might be my favorite expression of this duo yet.

The drink was created by Matt Lanning of The Bitter Bar in Boulder, Colorado, and named it with a nod to Richard Betts, the man behind Sombra Mezcal, which Lanning's original recipe calls for. I substituted Del Maguey Vida, a wonderful mezcal for making cocktails that's also easier to find than Sombra.

Gaz Regan included the drink in his blog's 2011-2012 list of 101 Best New Cocktails. I love how he describes the role blanc vermouth plays in the drink: "The Dolin brings a creaminess to this quaff, it turns out—it acts like a white fluffy mattress on which the other ingredients play."

All Betts Are Off
Adapted from a recipe by Matt Lanning, The Bitter Bar

1 1/2 oz. mezcal (Sombra mezcal is the classic choice; I used Del Maguey Vida)
3/4 oz. Yellow Chartreuse
3/4 oz. Dolin blanc vermouth
Grapefruit twist garnish (lacking a grapefruit, I used a lemon twist instead)

Combine mezcal, Chartreuse and vermouth in a cocktail mixing glass with ice. Stir until very cold, then strain into a chilled coupe glass. Garnish with a grapefruit (or lemon) twist.

Related Links: Other mezcal and Chartreuse cocktails

Naked and Famous

La Otra Palabra

Going Back to Mezcali

Smoky Frozen Margarita

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Korean Hot Dog with Ketchung Sauce

Korean Hot Dog with Ketchung Sauce

Summer and hot dogs go together so well. Sure, I love burgers (a lot), but hot dogs have this level of nostalgia for me that burgers don't. I suppose hot dogs are a "kid" thing, a simple sandwich of buns, dog and ketchup (and if you're a kid, probably nothing else). Hot dogs roasted on a stick over a campfire--especially a beach campfire--is one of the quintessentially perfect summer meals. Follow the dogs with toasted marshmallows for campfire cooking perfection.

Adults, however, have been getting in on the hot dog game lately, coming up with inventive ways to serve and garnish them. I still think the best hot dog is simple: a toasted bun, a single sauce and no more than one or two other garnishes. But what those sauces and garnishes are is where it's fun to get creative.

This Korean-inspired hot dog is in keeping with that simplicity. I used Hebrew National beef franks, but Nathan's Famous would be good too. I also used plain hot dog buns lightly toasted under an oven broiler. Be sure to watch them carefully, as they will go from nicely toasted to burnt quite fast.

What makes the hot dog Korean is the kimchi, a cabbage-heavy fermented Korean vegetable side that makes a perfect hot dog garnish. Although it is often spicy, there are mild varieties available.

Ketchung Signature Sauce

The other thing is the sauce: I used Ketchung Signature Sauce, a locally made spicy tomato-based sauce sweetened with brown sugar and given heat with Tabasco pepper mash. It's a lot like Ketchup--the name is actually a mashup of ketchup and Chung, last name of Ketchung creator Helen Chung. Helen's husband and Ketchung co-founder David gave me a bottle at a recent food bloggers event. Since I love ketchup--and who doesn't--I was happy to give it a try. The sauce is really good: it's a got a nice tomato flavor with some definite peppery heat.

In addition to the signature sauce, Ketchung also makes a barbecue sauce. Ketchung is available from a number of outlets in D.C., Maryland and Virginia. You can also buy it online from Ketchung directly. They're website features a number of recipes for using the sauces.

Korean Hot Dog

6-8 hot dogs, all-beef or beef-and-pork franks
6-8 hot dog buns
Ketchung signature sauce

1. Cook the hot dogs. If you're outside with a campfire that's burned down to coals, stick a long stick through one end and warm the hot dog over the coals, turning to heat and lightly brown the dog evenly. If you're at home, heat them in a frying pan over moderate heat until lightly browned on the outside and warmed through (hot dogs are already cooked, so you're just warming them and crisping the skin a bit).

2. Preheat an oven broiler. Carefully split open the hot dog buns and set them crust-side-down on a baking sheet. Broil until the white side is lightly toasted, about 30 seconds to 1 minute (watch carefully, as they can burn fast). You can brush the buns with olive oil but you don't have to.

3. Serve the hot dogs in the buns garnished with kimchi and Ketchung sauce.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Restaurant: Kangaroo Boxing Club (Washington, D.C.)

Kangaroo Boxing Club (Washington, D.C.)

[Update: Kangaroo Boxing Club has closed.]

Going out in Washington, D.C. can be incredibly fun, but sometimes you hit a snag. That's what happened to me and some friends when we met at a bar recently that turned out to be surprisingly busy--so much so that I found it impossible get any service. It was a drag, but it happens.

Thankfully, our city continues to play host to an ever-expanding array of going-out options. We hit the streets and soon found ourselves rescued by Kangaroo Boxing Club, an inviting neighborhood restaurant serving seriously good food without taking itself too seriously (Tim Carman reported on how the name was born during an evening of drinking during college).

KBC's menu is mostly (but not exclusively) barbecue, with smoky offerings like brisket, pulled pork and pastrami offered either as sandwiches with a side or as platters with coleslaw and two other sides. Vegetarians can opt for barbecued falafel, and meat lovers can sample a half or full rack of ribs on Tuesday and Friday nights. A range of starters and burgers round out the menu.

Want to try duck bacon? The smoky strips are the most unusual of KBC's starters. While not crispy like pork bacon, it has a wonderful smokiness that instantly transports my mind to thoughts of youthful campfires.

As a barbecue lover, I gravitated toward a traditional experience, opting for a brisket platter with coleslaw. The brisket was very good. Smoky, but not overly so, but tender, juicy and flavorful. As my two sides I chose brussels sprouts and beans. The flash-fried sprouts were a particular favorite and arrived piled high. The barbecue beans with pulled pork were also good.

Our group enjoyed two other sides: mac & cheese, which can be ordered either with bacon and gorgonzola cheese or with jalapeño-laced cheddar. We also passed around a couple plates of johnny cakes, which are corn cakes that arrive hot and wonderfully crispy around the edges with a dollop of maple-honey butter.

We enjoyed all this good food on KBC's sidewalk patio, a wonderful place for people-watching during a late-spring dinner. It had been hot and humid that day, but the evening cooled off nicely. And after having our feathers ruffled at our night's first stop, KBC's comforting food and friendly staff smoothed us out just perfectly.

Kangaroo Boxing Club, 3410 11th Street NW (near Park Road), Washington, D.C. (Columbia Heights). 202-505-4KBC.

Monday, June 6, 2016

Celebrate Negroni Week: White Negroni

Negroni Week White Negroni

It's Negroni Week! Imbibe Magazine and Campari, maker of the classic Campari and Aperol aperitifs, created Negroni Week in 2013 to celebrate the Negroni--a favorite summer cocktail--as well as raise money for charity. There are 5,906 participating venus this year that will donate to charity with each Negroni sold (find a location here).

For Negroni Week this year, I'm offering up one of my favorite Negroni variations, the White Negroni. Like the original, it has a gin base, but it uses white vermouth, such as Dolin blanc or Lillet blanc, instead of sweet vermouth, and a bitter liqueur instead of Campari.

This Negroni's bitter flavor comes not from Campari but from Suze, a bitter French liqueur flavored with Gentian root. Campari can come on a bit strong, so if you're not a big fan of it, you might like the White Negroni, as I find it to be a little sweeter and less bitter (another trick is to substitute Aperol, which is similar to Campari--and also made by the Campari company--but less bitter and more citrus-flavored). I've also seen the White Negroni made with Cocchi Americano, which I think would be interesting, probably less sweet and definitely would make for a truly "white" drink, since Suze has a yellow tint.

You can play around with the ratios if you like. I've seen some with equal parts vermouth and Suze (3/4 oz. each), but I find this ratio that dials back the Suze a bit to be an ideal balance for my desired level of bitterness.

There are many other interesting variations of Negroni out there. Mayahuel, the wonderful mezcal-focused bar in New York, has a clever variation on the White Negroni they call the Blank Slate, made with sotol (a wonderful Mexican spirit I plan to write more about very soon), Cocchi Americano and Suze. See the related links below for some  of the ones I've featured on my site, as well as recipe for the classic Negroni.

White Negroni

1 1/2 oz. gin (I used Leopold's American Small Batch Gin)
1 oz. Dolin blanc vermouth
1/2 oz. Suze
Lemon twist, garnish

Combine gin, vermouth and Suze in a cocktail mixing glass with ice. Stir until well-chilled (about 30 seconds to 1 minute), then strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a lemon twist.


Negroni, the classic original with gin, Campari and sweet vermouth.

Fail-Safe, a Negroni variation from Death & Co. with Aperol, sloe gin and dry curaçao.

Teagroni, from Kevin Liu's Craft Cocktails at Home, this variation gets its bitterness from tea with honey for sweetness.

Barrel-Aged Berlioni, a very interesting variation from Greg Henry's Savory Cocktails, adapted from Gonçalo de Sousa Monteiro's recipe for the Victoria Bar in Berlin, which uses barrel-aged gin, Cynar, white vermouth and orange bitters.

Faux Pho Salad (Vietnamese Chicken Salad)

Pho, the popular Vietnamese noodle soup made with beef, a spiced broth and fresh garnishes is wonderful but also wonderfully filling. Sometimes a little too much. Yet the flavors are so good. I created this salad as a way to enjoy them without filling up on noodles. The salad also uses chicken instead of beef, although I bet a version with beef, such as broiled flank steak, would be really good too. Since there aren't noodles here, this isn't pho. More like "faux" pho.

Faux Pho Salad (Vietnamese Chicken Salad)
Makes two entree portions

1 star anise pod
3 cardamom pods
1/2 tsp. coriander seeds
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp. fine garlic powder
4 tbsp. vegetable oil
3/4 lb. chicken breast cutlets
Salt, to taste
Gochugaru (Korean red pepper flakes), to taste (may substitutes red chili pepper flakes or Aleppo pepper flakes
3-4 cups torn romaine lettuce leaves
1 carrot, peeled and shredded
1/2 English cucumber, cut in quarters lengthwise then sliced into 1/4-inch pieces
1 tbsp. lime juice
1/2 tsp. dark sesame oil
1 inch peeled ginger root, finely minced (I use a Microplane)
1/2 tsp. honey
1/4 cup unsalted roasted peanuts, coarsely chopped
1/2 cup fresh cilantro leaves, coarsely chopped

1. Combine star anise, cardamom and coriander in a small frying pan over medium and toast until the spices are fragrant, shaking the pan occasionally, about 2-3 minutes. Allow to cool then transfer to a spice grinder and grind until fine. Combine with the cinnamon and garlic powder and set aside.

2. Heat 2 tbsp. vegetable oil in a medium frying pan over medium heat. Pat chicken dry with paper towels and add to the pan. Season with the ground spice mixture, salt and gochugaru. Cook until the chicken is browned and cooked through, about 10 minutes, turning halfway through. Set chicken aside on a cutting board, then slice into bite-size pieces.

3. Combine lettuce, carrot and cucumber in a large bowl. In a small bowl (I like to use a 1-cup glass measuring cup), whisk together the remaining 2 tbsp. of vegetable oil, lime juice, sesame oil, ginger, honey and a small pinch of salt. Pour dressing over the salad and toss to combine.

4. Divide the salad between two bowls and top with half the cooked chicken, peanuts, cilantro and pickled jalapeño slices.

Quick-Pickled Jalapeño Slices

2 jalapeño peppers
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup white vinegar
1 tbsp. sugar
1/2 tbsp. kosher salt

Cut off both ends of the peppers. Using a paring knife, carefully cut through the ribs on the inside of the pepper and remove the ribs and seeds, leaving the peppers as long tubes. Slice the peppers into 1/8-inch rings.

Bring remaining ingredients to boil. Add the sliced jalapeños and remove from the heat. Allow to cool for about 10 minutes, then transfer to a container to store in the refrigerator until ready to use (can be made up to a 1 day in advance).

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Smoky Orzo and Vegetable Bowl with Pistachio Pesto

Smoky Orzo and Vegetable Bowl with Pistachio Pesto

This pasta bowl was inspired by the fennel bowl I enjoyed at Shouk and wrote about earlier this week. That dish, which is vegan, contains brown rice, lentils, fennel, other vegetables and a wonderful pistachio pesto with a Middle Eastern spice profile. This dish is not vegan or even vegetarisn--it contains bacon (easily omitted if you want to make the dish vegan)--and it has a more Italian than Middle Eastern flavor. These kinds of bowls make a great dinner, ideal for breaking up a midweek routine.

Smoky Orzo and Vegetable Bowl with Pistachio Pesto
Inspired by the fennel rice bowl at Shouk in Washington, D.C.; pesto adapted from a recipe by Frank Falcinelli and Frank Castronovo for Food & Wine.

16 oz. whole-grain orzo
1 large fennel bulb, cut into 1/2-inch dice (about 2 cups)
2 large carrots, peeled, quartered lengthwise and diced (about 1 cup)
2 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1/2 lb. thick-cut hickory-smoked bacon
1 yellow onion, diced
1 red bell pepper, cored, seeded and diced
2 cups baby spinach leaves

7 oz. roasted unsalted shelled pistachios
2 tbsp. coarsely chopped fresh mint leaves
1 garlic clove, minced
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 cup finely shredded pecorino romano cheese (I used a microplane)

1. Cook orzo in salted boiling water according to package directions for al dente. Reserve 1/2 cup of pasta cooking water, drain and set aside.

2. Preheat oven to 425 F. Combine fennel and carrots in a large bowl. Drizzle with 2 tbsp. of olive oil. Toss to coat and season with salt and pepper. Spread vegetables on a baking sheet and roast until softened and lightly browned, about 40 minutes, stirring after the first 20 minutes. Set vegetables aside.

3. Make pesto while the vegetables roast: Add the pistachio nuts to a food processor and pulse a few times to coarsely chop. Add the mint and garlic, then turn on the processor and drizzle the olive oil through the feed tube, processing the mixture until it forms a paste. Transfer mixture to a bowl and stir in the pecorino romano cheese.

4. Cook bacon in a large saute pan over medium heat. Transfer cooked bacon to a paper-towel-lined plate. When cooled, transfer to a cutting board and chop into bits. Pour off the excess fat from the saute pan, leaving about 1 tbsp. in pan. Return to medium heat and sauté the onion and red pepper until lightly browned and softened, about 10 minutes. Stir in the spinach and cook a couple of minutes until it wilts, then stir in the cooked orzo, bacon and roasted vegetables. Moisten the mixture with some of the reserved pasta cooking water. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve in shallow bowls topped with a generous dollop of pesto.