It’s always a bit unsatisfying doing a basic pasta dish that doesn’t involve anything fancy-sounding like a vine-ripened tomato and toasted pine nut flambé carousel, particularly when you’re supposed to write about it on the internet and convey the sense that you are a good cook. Penne with bacon and peas sounds like the sort of thing you’d make for a six-year-old who was only prepared to eat that or fish fingers for the third night running and would eat neither if not allowed to play on the iPad while doing so.
But look: I’m heading home doing a mental fridge/cupboard inventory, and I’ve got all this stuff to use up. An onion on its last legs. Two rashers of bacon that I’m not wholly convinced haven’t gone off. Massive reserves of pasta and frozen peas. I Google a recipe. All I need is to score some soured cream on the way home. I can do that. I can do anything.
This recipe, it turns out, is nice and easy but lives on one of those recipe blogs that not only bangs on for the first six paragraphs about how much the author and her family like pasta, and then peas, and then bacon, when all you want is an ingredients list and a less acute longing for the sweet release of death, but also has a video advert autoplaying whenever you open it. It doesn’t actually play a video; just brings up the player in the notifications bar whenever I go back to the page on my phone to check what’s next, halting Loudon Wainwright III’s Attempted Mustache album on Spotify and forcing me to press play again.
I grab from the fridge and pry open the bacon’s tupperware. A quick nose audit. It’s right on the cusp. Possibly a bit over the cusp. Now, when something’s off, it’s off, and I’ll bin it, then stab myself with a fork for 20 minutes or so for wasting it. But when it’s borderline … well, what’s life without a bit of risk? Plus the prospect of putting on shoes and walking down to the garage to get some more bacon is unthinkable. I’ve never had food poisoning and two rashers of slightly greying bacon aren’t going to change that. I scissor it to bits and put it in the saucepan to crisp up. Once it’s done its time I take it back out for the moment, then let the onions and the garlic say hello to its fat.
The only thing that’s elevating this in particular is cooking the dry pasta in the same pan in chicken stock and milk, something I’ve been doing a bit recently having learned it from one of those videos on Twitter that films the whole thing from directly above the pan, before trying to sell you a blue worktop hotplate at the end where the temperature is controlled by an app. I don’t need a hotplate, because I don’t live in a shack in the woods like the Unabomber, and I don’t need to control a pan’s temperature with an app because I’m standing right next to the bloody thing. But the videos are useful and often innovative recipe sources, if very inconvenient as real-time guides because you have to keep skipping back all the time.
Once the milk and stock are in I can season it up then relax a little, not that I was especially anxious before about putting things in a saucepan. (It’s easy, cooking, right? I appreciate some people don’t enjoy it, but I don’t understand when they say they can’t do it. Just put some things in a pan and wait until the hard things are soft and the dry things are wet. If it doesn’t taste of much, add cheese.) The peas can get on and defrost in the milkstock once the penne’s al dente-adjacent, then a bit of sour cream, some parmesan on the top, and a grind of pepper because it’ll make the photo look better. The bacon doesn’t kill me, and if you want more from a meal than its not actively bringing about your death then you’re just being greedy.