Creamy Bacon & Pea “Calamari” Pasta with Lemon & Thyme
Pasta, in my opinion, has been unfairly demonized. I crave it at least once a week, which is nearly as much as I crave tacos. 🙂
The simple guideline about healthy eating is to keep things in balance. So while I do portion out my pasta to keep its carbs in the range that’s right for me, I still eat it! I haven’t noticed one bit of difference on diet plans that incorporate pasta vs ones that don’t. And I’ve experimented both ways. You can lose weight and be healthier on both.
This is a great easy weeknight meal and a go-to for my family. My daughter LOVES it. On the table in 20-ish minutes, it sure beats takeout.
The original inspiration for this recipe came from a NYT Cooking version, but their version was OVER 1,000 calories per serving (What the Fudgggge??). I’ve altered this recipe so much I can confidently call it my own now – and it comes in at a much more reasonable 350 calories per serving.
(If you want to have a larger lunch or dinner, I recommend you increase the protein amount by throwing some diced, sliced or shredded chicken breast on top. Nearly all of us need to be consuming more protein, especially if we are trying to lose fat. Protein is also the most satiating macronutrient and will help you feel full long after the pasta has been broken down and left the stomach.)
Because wheat in the US is industrially farmed via monocrop agriculture, a lot of it is sprayed heavily with glyphosate (Round-Up) and hundreds of other chemicals. For this reason I recommend you buy organic pasta, which will have far fewer traces of gut-disrupting pesticides. You can also buy local/sustainable wheat & pasta products, they are starting to pop up all over grocery stores as consumer demand increases for these products. Hallelujah!
For the Bacon and dairy, I also recommend pastured animal products. “Pastured” is code-word for allowing the animal to live its life as the species was intended to do – with access to sunshine, dirt, grass, and whatever the animal naturally eats. This is a sustainable way of producing animal-based food. For bacon, a few of my favorite brands are Applegate Naturals, Niman Ranch, and Beeler’s Pure Pork.
For Dairy, I love Alexandre Farms, local dairies, and Organic Valley. I’ve actually met representatives from Organic Valley, and the owners of Alexandre Farms, at an Ecological Farming Conference in California. These are great people who love their animals and are leaders in sustainable agriculture. Please consider supporting them over the big mega-factory dairies, even if it costs a buck or two more. (You can see Alexandre’s heavy cream in the pic below, and it is DIVINE.)
Final note: I buy my Parmigiano from Italy. There are many reasons for this, none of which are pretentious or snobby. The regulations and care that go into the quality of dairy and aging process are like night and day between Italian Parmesan and American-made Parmesan. Consider buying a block of it and grating it yourself. It makes a surprising amount when grated!
This is such a simple recipe, there aren’t really any “tricks” that I can think of other than getting your water to boiling before you even start frying up the bacon.
I don’t know about your kitchen but it seems like in mine, even with a gas range, it takes water FOREVER to boil! So when I first started making this recipe and started everything at the same time, I actually had to turn off my bacon skillet while I waited for the pasta.
You’ll note that the instructions call for cooking the pasta until just shy of al dente. That’s because it’ll keep cooking once you stir it into the bacon, peas and sauce. So this prevents it from becoming mushy.
Other than that, everything comes together super easily. The bacon and peas look pretty together in their skillet before you add in whatever pasta shapes you want (I like the big calamari or rigatoni’s, but I’ve also made this with shells, orecchiette, and linguine!) In this particular picture, I actually only had 4 slices of bacon on hand – but the recipe calls for double that so your bacon-to-pea ratio should be higher! 😀
This dish gets major props for time-investment: 6 servings in just 20 minutes. So depending on the size of your household, you may want to increase it by 1.5 or 2x – enough for lotsa leftovers!
I manually calculated the calories and macronutrients (protein, carbs and fat) for this recipe using the specific brands of ingredients listed above, and an app called My Net Diary. This app has over 9M users and contains a food database with more than 940,000 food items, 680K of which have been professional verified (the rest have been contributed by other users). I LOVE this app because it allows you to create combined nutrition info for your own recipes.
Although I’ve found this method to be far more accurate than using an automated Nutrition WordPress plugin, there is still the standard disclaimer that your mileage may (can and will) vary. This is for the following reasons:
* The brands of items you get may be different, and with animal products in particular, protein and fat content and vary wildly.
* Your portion sizes may be different than mine. You may decide you need 1.5 of these servings to fill you up
* Human bodies are not the same as machines or engines, and food is far more than just fuel. Regardless what we swallow, what we digest and absorb is going to vary wildly from person to person and even the same person, day to day. Things like sleep, stress, hydration, heat/cold, exercise, and gut biome all play a huge role in nutrient absorption and bio-availability.
An important note about pasta & portion sizing: Pasta can be a hyper-palatable, trigger food for some people. And most Americans who eat out regularly are accustomed to huge platefuls of pasta. This is more of European sizing of pasta – so I recommend you portion it out into SIX portions before you start eating it! The recipe calls for 12 oz of pasta – that’s 2 oz dry per portion. (Most pasta bags are 16 oz.)
If you need to “flesh out” your meal to get enough to eat, add more lean protein and a green side salad with a tart vinaigrette.
Food As Medicine
This is an important component to each of my Recipe posts because food is SO much more than simple fuel. It is not just about calories in and calories out. It’s far more than even macronutrients, although those are certainly crucial to our health. Food has thousands of chemicals, hormones, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants that our body also uses and needs.
As for this meal, I wouldn’t say it’s a “super meal” in the same sense that my Kale-Farro Steak Salad is. But what it DOES do is make you feel less crazy during a caloric deficit. If you’ve been eating strict low-carb and an aggressive caloric deficit, you’re more than likely going to be feeling zoney, irritable, and maybe a little more than crazy about your food. When the body is in starvation mode, it sends signals to the brain to become more obsessed with food. That’s why we obsess over food when we’re on a diet!
This meal can really help you feel rebalanced if you’ve been over-training or over-dieting – like big “ahhhh” for your brain. It just makes you happy. (Sending glucose to a glucose-starved brain tends to do that.) And it doesn’t break the calorie bank either.
Use a balanced, portioned pasta dish like this on nights that you feel like you just need a “normal, non diet dinner” without going full-on “cheat meal”. You’re still getting clean protein, healthy fat, and plant chemicals and fiber due to the peas. (And of course you can amp up the plant chemical goodness by throwing in more veggies if you like!)
Pasta really CAN save your sanity. Here is proof! 🙂
As I mentioned, free to stir in more/different veggies if you like – minced garlic and onion can be sauteed with the bacon. Small broccoli florets or asparagus tips could be thrown in with the peas. All are great options for this dish.
In place of bacon you could also use something different but still porky 🙂 like pancetta or even some leftover carnitas (shredded, braised pork shoulder). You can also add some diced chicken if you want to amp up the protein content.
I haven’t tried this recipe with non-dairy options, but if you do, let me know! I suspect they would change the flavor and/or texture of this dish substantially however. If you aren’t allergic to dairy, try some good quality farm-fresh pastured organic dairy. You may find yourself less sensitive than you are to factory-farmed stuff. You can also try cooking with ghee instead of butter. Ghee has had the milk proteins (casein, whey) removed. If you’re simply intolerant to the sugar (lactose), you can try taking a lactase tablet whenever you eat larger quantities of dairy, specifically milk and non-aged cheese.
I don’t recommend that you freeze these leftovers, but they DO keep great in the fridge and reheat easily! You can keep leftovers for 5-7 days in airtight containers.
(Shown here with my wine pick – a Walla Walla lightly-oaked Chardonnay from some of my favorite winemakers, Aluve)
Creamy Bacon and Pea “Calamari” Pasta
Nutrition Per Serving