Savory Chicken with Bacon Penne Pasta: Sorry lil piggies – you’re gonna have to go “wee-wee” all the way home

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Turkey bacon clucked its way into the supermarkets in 1991 after consumer-testing ruled it as a tasty and leaner alternative to its veteran pork counterpart.  In the nineties, Americans became consumed with “low-fat diets”, providing turkey bacon with a welcomed spot at supermarkets and on Saturday-morning breakfast plates.  Fathers were convinced (by their concerned wives) that this would help lower their cholesterol and blood pressure without compromising their favorite breakfast item.  But were these health claims based on fact?  For one thing, they were based on logical conclusions – how so?  “White meat” is inherently lower in calories and cholesterol compared to dark meat, explaining why roasted turkey sandwiches make their appearance on Subway’s “Fresh Fit” menu over the classic B.L.T.  Foods lower in calories and cholesterol are associated with decreased levels of triglycerides, reflecting well the next time one visits the cardiologist.  But, does switching to turkey bacon have the same benefit as switching to a roasted turkey sandwich?  It depends…

Select companies manufacture their turkey bacon with lower amounts of sodium, which combined with the naturally lower fat content of turkey, these few products can be considered “healthier” compared to traditional pork bacon.  However, turkey bacon is prepared with thigh meat in order to get the dark color resembling the real thing – right there the benefit of lowering cholesterol by consuming “white meat” is reneged…strike one.  Additionally, in order for a bland meat to obtain the crunchy texture and savory flavor that comes from bacon fat, the majority of turkey bacon manufacturers supplement their product with nearly double the amount of sodium.  Strike two for trying to lower Daddy’s blood pressure.

With the average slice of turkey bacon offering only ten fewer calories, negligibly less cholesterol (averaging 98 mg per slice versus 110 mg), and double the sodium of classic pork bacon, it is understandable that the Europeans, as well as my uncle, who raises hogs  in Iowa, laughs at anyone who throws a pack of Butterball Turkey bacon in a shopping cart.  Who can blame them?  French mothers have added lardons to quiches, salads, and pastas for centuries and are no worse for wear.  Thousands of farmers in America’s Mid-West region start their workday with farm-fresh eggs and bacon, the high-quality proteins preparing them for 14-hours of manual labor that will offset any potential negative side effects.  Convincing them to convert to an inferior-tasting product with no substantial health benefits would be like convincing a Yankee-fan from the Bronx to root for the Red Sox this year at the play-offs – not gonna happen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

So, the next time you are at a friend’s house and see bacon on the menu, do not start immediately thinking about how many crunches you will have to do to offset the calories.  Instead, focus on enjoying the meal, the company, and simply say “no” to seconds, thereby holding off on the guilty “pork-hangover”.  Lastly, remember the wise words of Benjamin Disraeli, nineteenth-century British statesman: “The choicest pleasures in life lie within the ring of moderation”.  So, go ahead, grab a slice of bacon and crunch-on!  A couple crunches couldn’t hurt either.

 

Ingredients

  • 6 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
  • 1 pound bacon, coarsely chopped
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 pound dry penne pasta
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 400F.  Line a baking dish with aluminum foil.
  2. Spray each chicken breast with non-stick cooking spray (e.g.: PAM), rub with salt and pepper.  Place breasts on tinfoil and cover with additional tinfoil.  Bake for 35 minutes, or until fluids run clear.
  3. Meanwhile, place the chopped bacon and onion in a skillet over medium heat, and cook and stir until the bacon is crisp and the onion is beginning to brown, about 10 minutes.
  4. While the bacon and onion are cooking, fill a large pot with lightly salted water and bring to a rolling boil over high heat.  Once the water is boiling, stir in the penne, and return to a boil.  Cook the pasta uncovered, stirring occasionally, until cooked through, but is still firm to the bite, about 11 minutes.
  5. Drain pasta, transfer to a large serving bowl, and stir in the olive oil to coat the pasta.
  6. Remove chicken from oven and slice each breast into strips.  Add to the cooked bacon mixture.
  7. Drain the bacon grease from the skillet, leaving a couple of tablespoons or to taste.  Stir the chicken and bacon mixture into the pasta, and sprinkle with Parmesan cheese over the pasta.  Stir to mix in the cheese, and serve.

Yield:  8 servings

 

Nutrition Information:  (per serving)

  • 598 calories
  • 27.4 g fat [remember that this includes the mono-unsaturated fats in olive oil which are shown to lower LDL levels (the bad cholesterol)].
  • 41.6 g carbohydrates
  • 4.3 g fiber
  • 47.6 g protein

 

*A dinner entree that takes only thirty minutes to prepare from start-to-finish, is under 6oo calories per serving, and has the satisfaction of a rich and savory Italian-delicacy?  Better start running home all you lil piggies.

 

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