It’s wintertime in Southern California, which translates to chilly days and evenings and a few sporadic rain showers if we are lucky. The cold here is not like the cold of other places this time of year. I have yet to even see my breath on the air or feel the icy burn of ungloved hands. Mornings are seldom gray and the sun can still warm your skin if you stand beneath it for any extended period of time.
Nevertheless it’s wintry enough to inspire hearty and indulgent meals. The sort of meals that warm you from the outside in, which is decidedly different from the inside out. These types of comforting meals begin with scent, fragrant ingredients premating the air. Then sight, a vibrant simmering sauce, or the golden brown crust of searing meat. Then you feel the weight of a large bite—noodles and meat piled on the end of a fork. You taste the spicy sweetness of the sauce, followed by the subtle background flavor of bourbon, roasted garlic and squash. Finally you feel satiated within. Full of food and flavors and smells, and warmth. But it’s an external journey inward for sure.
When I develop recipes like these it usually starts around a single ingredient, in this case bacon. From there I start to pull together other elements. I imagine the scent of roasting garlic, the tang of boozy BBQ sauce, sweet roasted butternut squash, and earthy sage. I think in flavors and scents. Of fatty, salty bacon, with bourbon, and pasta. Of thick noodles and sweet and salty notes. Sometimes I’ll just start cooking. Other times I jot down words, ingredients, pulling things together until a recipe begins to form.
Spaghetti and meatballs is comfort food to many, myself included. I enjoy however, playing with traditional elements and experimenting with flavors to create new renditions of favorite classics. I used Farmer John’s Steakhouse Seasoned Bacon and ground pork to make large flavorful meatballs that only needed a few addition fresh ingredients to round out the flavor. I chose bucatini because a thicker noodle stands up to the heavier ingredients of this dish.
Grinding the bacon meant it was easier to incorporate into the ground pork and it imparted tons of flavor and juiciness. The amount of fresh sage and roasted garlic was excessive but justified—the end results being balanced. Bourbon-filled BBQ sauce was meant to be paired with roasted butternut squash pasta. I can’t wait to experiment with these flavors on the grill come summer.
Simon and I now have a new comfort food dish to add to the archives. Decadent and rich and warming for the casual winter days we are currently enjoying. We polished it all off in two days and we can still remember how every bite tasted. How every step of the cooking process smelled. Even the rich colors are seared into our memories. Of course, the photos help trigger all these things.
What are your favorite comfort foods? What recipes have you adapted and made your own over the years? Leave a comment below.
This recipe and the accompanying photos were sponsored by Farmer John. This blog post and all the words and sentiments therein are entirely my own. Visit @FarmerJohnLA and @TheBaconParty for more bacon-inspired recipes.
- For the Meatballs
- 1 lb. Farmer John Ground Pork
- 12 oz. Farmer John Steakhouse Bacon
- 1/4 cup chopped sage
- 1/2 cup panko breadcrumbs
- 1/2 cup fresh breadcrumbs
- 2 bulbs roasted garlic
- 1 egg
- 1/4 cup grated onion
- 1 tsp. Smoked Paprika
- 1/4 tsp smoked salt
- Black pepper
- 2 cups BBQ sauce
- 1/2 cup bourbon
- Plus olive oil for searing meatballs
- For the Pasta
- 5 cups butternut squash peeled and cubed
- 10 sage leaves
- 3 Tbsp. olive oil
- Salt and Pepper
- 2 bulbs roasted garlic
- 2 1/2 cups vegetable stock
- 1 lb. cooked pasta + 1/3 cup pasta water
- Optional Serving Ideas
- Fresh chopped parsley
- Crispy chopped bacon (if you’re feeling extra indulgent)
- Roast the Garlic
- Preheat oven to 350°F
- Cut the tops off 4 bulbs of garlic.
- Place garlic on a large piece of foil, drizzle with olive oil, and wrap tightly.
- Place in a small baking dish and bake for about 45 minutes, or until garlic is soft and golden.
- When cool enough to handle, remove cloves and divide for both the meatballs and pasta.
- Make the Meatballs
- If possible, use a meat grinder to grind the bacon for the meatballs. Otherwise use a food processor to finely chop.
- Combine all the ingredients except the BBQ sauce and bourbon in a large bowl.
- Gently mix with hands, being careful not to over mix.
- Form approximately 2-inch meatballs and set them aside on a platter or baking sheet.
- In a large cast iron skillet or oven-proof pan heat a few tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat.
- Arrange meatballs in pan and brown for about 4 minutes until golden, flipping once halfway through.
- Deglaze the pan with bourbon and pour in BBQ sauce, being sure to coat every meatball.
- Bake at 350°F for about 30 minutes or until meatball internal temp. reads 165°F.
- Make the Pasta
- Make pasta and reserve 1/3 cup pasta water.
- Arrange squash and sage on a baking sheet, drizzle with olive oil, and season with salt and pepper.
- Bake at 350°F for about 30-45 minutes or until squash is tender.
- Puree squash with roasted garlic in a food processor with 1-2 cups vegetable stock until smooth.
- Pour squash puree into a sauce pan with remaining stock and pasta water. Season with more salt and pepper if necessary.
- Toss sauce with pasta noodles until well-incorporated.
- To Serve
- Serve pasta family style in large bowl or platter.
- Top with BBQ meatballs, fresh parsley, and crisp chopped bacon if desired.