Iowa offensive tackle Tristan Wirfs made his mark on Mount Vernon. Many in town made their mark on him, too. Wirfs and his mother, Sarah, took The Gazette on a tour of his hometown, revisiting scenes around what essentially is the one square mile where he grew up. This story is a little about what can hold you back. This is mostly about what moves you forward.

Food & Drink

This deserves to be your summer's go-to bacon salad

It looks like we have Pennsylvania Dutch tradition to thank for warm bacon dressing, and that makes kitchen sense to me. Finding a use for the just-rendered fat from a pan of freshly crisped rashers - in this case, the oil substitute in a shallot vinaigrette - is both thrifty and practical.

The dressing probably also helped to wilt savoy spinach pulled straight from the garden, with the kind of sturdy, crinkly leaves that are increasingly hard to come by at the supermarket.

This recipe pairs that dressing and crisped bacon with orzo, a popular choice for the pasta salads of summer. We’re using the more ubiquitous baby spinach leaves here, which don’t put up the same fight as their savoy kin but get slip-slide-y along with the orzo. Roasted red pepper completes the cheerful palette.

Shaved Parm is an optional, salty hit; you could just as easily toss in the small balls of mozzarella called bocconcini, which would add a different texture and tone down the salt and acidity in each bite.

Speaking of that acidity, taste the salad before you serve it. If you’re like me, you’ll add one more splash of vinegar to balance the bacon-y richness.

BACON AND SPINACH ORZO SALAD

30 minutes

4 to 6 servings

Summer loves its pasta salads; this one takes its cue from the happy flavors of a spinach salad with warm bacon-infused dressing.

RECIPE NOTES: Allow leftovers to come to room temperature before serving.

6 strips bacon (uncooked)

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more for the cooking water

1 large shallot

1/2 cup white wine vinegar or champagne vinegar, or more as needed

1 tablespoon plus 1 1/2 teaspoons honey

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more as needed

12 ounces dried orzo pasta (may substitute another small shaped pasta)

8 ounces baby spinach (about 6 packed cups)

1 large jarred roasted red pepper (may substitute 10 grape tomatoes)

One 2-ounce block Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese (optional)

Line a plate with paper towels. Lay the bacon slices in a large skillet. Cook over medium-low heat for 8 to 10 minutes total, until its fat has rendered and the bacon is crisp, turning it over halfway through. Transfer the bacon to the plate; once it is cool enough to handle, crumble it into small bits.

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Meanwhile, bring a large pot of generously salted water to a boil over medium-high heat. Cut the shallot into 1/4-inch dice, to yield about 1/2 cup.

Reduce the heat to low. Add the shallot to the bacon fat in the skillet and cook until soft, about 3 minutes. Add the vinegar, honey, the 1/2 teaspoon of salt and the black pepper, whisking to form a blended dressing.

Add the orzo to the water and cook until al dente, 6 to 7 minutes. While that’s cooking, coarsely chop the spinach. Cut the roasted red pepper into 1/4-inch pieces. Shave or grate the cheese, if using.

Drain the pasta well and transfer to a mixing bowl. Add the chopped spinach, roasted red pepper and half the dressing. Stir gently until the spinach is slightly wilted. Drizzle with the remaining dressing, add the bacon and the cheese, if using, and stir to incorporate.

Taste, and add an extra splash of vinegar, as needed. Season generously with more black pepper. Serve warm.

Nutrition (based on 6 servings) | Calories: 360; Total Fat: 11 g; Saturated Fat: 4 g; Cholesterol: 15 mg; Sodium: 380 mg; Carbohydrates: 55 g; Dietary Fiber: 2 g; Sugars: 6 g; Protein: 11 g.

Source: Adapted from TheKitchn.com

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