So I realize that brussel sprouts are at the very tail end of their season (and I may be really stretching it), but I still see them bright and peppy on their stalks at the market so I feel justified in this post.
Like the city of their namesake, brussel sprouts are terribly underrated; they have such an unfortunate reputation of being stinky and plain. In fact, these little runts of the cabbage family may be the mascot for the rejected vegetable team, elevated by veggie haters as the chief offender and reason to shun vegetables. Maybe this is true if you boil all of the flavor out of them and dump them on a plate with a little table salt (a tragedy); however, a properly cooked brussel sprout paired with some punchy ingredients and a little bit of love can yield something very, very tasty.
Brussel sprouts are sweet, earthy, maybe even a little floral – pancetta and garlic beautifully complement these aspects of their flavor. They are great vehicles of flavor – crispy edges with soft centers – pungent sauce or olive oil hidden in the leaves – their own essence assertive enough to not be lost in the mix. These tiny crucifers are not only too delicious to be avoided, but they are packed with vitamins and phytonutrients that provide all sorts of lovely benefits to your body (cancer prevention, clear skin, boosted immune function, etc.).
My husband and I most often enjoy them prepared in the fashion I’ll outline below; you could serve them alongside a simple chicken or pork, or you can eat them as the main with some crusty bread, as we often do. I have
experimented with this classic pairing multiple times with many variations; I like them best in the way that I’m sharing. The pancetta is very toothsome; crispy but also pleasantly chewy. The saltiness of the pancetta combined with the garlic and caramelization of the brussel sprouts, the small amount of wine or broth that deglazes the pan, a tiny squeeze of lemon – all of this combines in glorious goodness. You could also cut some sprouts in half and roast them in the oven. Toss them with some olive oil, salt and pepper and they will brown very nicely. A simple, warm sauce of mustard, white wine or white wine vinegar, thyme and a generous sprinkle of freshly grated parmesan cheese makes an elegant and versatile side.
Perhaps you have written off the brussel sprout; if so, I ask you to give the humble veggie another chance. If I haven’t done enough to convince you, maybe my husband’s unabashed passion will: “They’re my absolute favorite vegetable,” he says, “and they’re named after my favorite city.” That’s a one-two punch for the brussel sprout.
brussel sprouts with pancetta
serves 2 generously
- 20 or so small brussel sprouts, trimmed of bottom “stem” and outer leaves plucked
- quarter inch slab of pancetta, diced into small cubes
- a few cloves of garlic, very coarsely chopped
- generous splash of chicken broth, white wine or vermouth
- little squeeze of lemon (optional and a little something extra)
- little bit of sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
- trim the brussel sprouts and blanch them for about three minutes in boiling water, draining and transferring to an ice bath
- cut the blanched brussel sprouts in half – meanwhile, crisp the pancetta in a skillet over medium high heat
- when pancetta begins to crisp, add the brussel sprouts cut side down and cook for 3 to 4 minutes (turn the heat down if they are browning too much or too fast)
- check to make sure that brussel sprouts are browning nicely, then turn over to brown on the other side, maybe 2 minutes more
- deglaze the pan with a little white wine, vermouth or chicken broth, then add the garlic to the pan
- toss and cook for about 1 to 2 minutes more, stirring gently to combine flavors and prevent garlic from burning
- squeeze with a bit of lemon, serve, and repent of your aversion to brussel sprouts
Look for brussel sprouts of a similar size, with crisp compact heads and intact leaves. Some of the leaves will come off during cooking; don’t worry – these will crisp up and become delicious.