Monday, 12 April 2010

To market, to market, to buy a fat pig …….

There are strong views about bacon in our family. There are those who believe that only dry-cured, rashers of back bacon from free range pigs, cut medium thin with just a fine edge of fat and no rind, are worthy of attention. There are others who believe that the other half of the bacon cut, the streaky rasher, has just as many virtues and indeed, is far more versatile. Those narrow stripes of meat and fat are perfect for so many dishes. Wrapping figs stuffed with gorgonzola, dribbled with honey or maple syrup, sat on a disc of bread and roasted in a hot oven for 10 minutes. Or lining a terrine to encase a pate before cooking gently in a bain marie, holding the luscious juices and keeping the mixture moist. Or snipping into a hot pan with olive oil and chopped garlic to crisp up before sizzling with wine vinegar and pouring the whole lot, hot and fragrant,to wilt spinach leaves for a salade tiède.

The bacon debate took a new twist recently, on a trip to South Africa, when we were invited to breakfast by friends of our hosts in Cape Town. The house clung to the mountainside at Llandudno, with vast windows overlooking the bay and full of wonderful works by Elsa, a successful sculptor. Her husband Horst (a professor of biothermodyanics) served home-made berry tea and fruit jellies made with seaweed , whilst explaining the health giving properties of agar.

The conversation was lively around the table, as we tucked into mealiepup, seeded rye bread and other specalities of Cape cuisine. Elsa then announced that despite having no functioning cooker because of a power cut, she was sticking to her plan to give us all bacon and eggs. Displaying Voortrecker determination, she had retrieved a primus stove from storage for the purpose. "Who would like their bacon crisp?" she called as the mixture of back and streaky rashers sizzled and spat in the pan.

After ten minutes Elsa expressed surprise that the bacon was not crisping. After another ten minutes she expressed irritation. After another ten minutes, when we all tried to persuade her that we really did not mind how the bacon was cooked and she should simply serve it, she asked Horst where he had bought the bacon. "The usual place," he replied, " but I asked for warthog, to make a change."

All around the table collapsed in laughter, some us wondering how Elsa resisted clipping Horst with the frying pan. Warthog makes good eating, but apparently if you want your bacon crisp, a domestic porker is the one to take home again, home again, jiggety jig.

Roasted piggy figs

Two figs per person
Strong blue cheese (the last bits of Stilton, gorgonzola or even Danish Blue)
One rasher of streaky bacon or pancetta per fig
Clear honey or maple syrup
Thin sliced bread without crusts

Wash the figs, then cut a cross almost down to the base, so they open up like a flower. Push small pieces of cheese into the cuts and then wrap each fig in a slice of bacon or pancetta. (Stretch the bacon gently with the back of a round bladed knife first, to make it thinner and more pliable.)
Lightly oil a baking tray. Cut discs of bread a little larger than the figs, sit a fig on each disc and grate over some black pepper. Then trickle over a little honey or maple syrup, Pop into a hot oven and cook for approx 10 minutes. When ready, the cheese is melted, the bacon fat starting to crisp and delicious pinky purple juices are soaking the bread. Serve warm, garnished with a little rocket or other small salad leaves. Also tasty cold.

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