It seems unfair to compare the two Brussels sprouts dishes I have made in the last couple weeks because they’re so different, about the only thing they have in common is the stand where I bought them. It’s like comparing apples and oranges, boiled lima beans and chocolate cake, the cuteness of my kid versus the cuteness of any other baby on earth… you know? One of the dishes is rich, salty-sweet and fork tender, the other is raw, slightly rubbery, acidic and at least according to a review on Epicurious that I probably should have taken more seriously, “was like eating a bowl of grass”. You’ll never guess which one we liked better.
But still, I couldn’t resist the latter one. I’m obsessed with slaws and the prospect of making a winter slaw of shredded Brussels was impossible to resist. I shaved them as thin as mandoline possible, toasted walnuts, added peels of Romano cheese and tossed them with lemon juice and olive oil only to end up with a knotty bowl of … grass. I salvaged it a bit by soaking it a while in a homemade vinaigrette with a bit of honey and you know, we did eat it which is the sign of a not-total-disaster, but I wouldn’t willingly make it again from this recipe.
Nevertheless, infant fist-sized Brussels are everywhere right now and I am always looking for new ways to cook them, so when I starting considering how lovely a flavorful braise of them could be, I was thrilled to see that one of my favorite cookbooks had beaten me to the punch. These were phenomenal, and like all of the recipes in that book (like those short ribs and this cake), just layers upon layers of flavor — crunchy breadcrumbs, buttery shallots and balsamic-caramelized pancetta — somehow all nested together in one cozy dish.
One year ago: Dark Chocolate Tart with Gingersnap Crust, Veselka’s Cabbage Soup and Brown Butter Brown Sugar Shorties
Two years ago: Fennel Ice Cream and Ratatouille Tart
Three years ago: Salted Chocolate Caramels and Zucchini Ham and Ricotta Fritters
Balsamic Braised Brussels with Pancetta
Adapted from Sunday Suppers at Lucques
The only major change I made to this recipe was that I adapted it to cook the medium-sized brussels I can easily get, versus the baby ones Goin recommends — this required more liquid and much more cooking time but the reward is a heartier bite with the same complex flavors. The recipe below is for the larger sprouts.
Serves 6 to 8 as a side
1 1/2 cups fresh bread crumbs (though I found I needed far less)
2 teaspoons thyme leaves
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil plus an extra glug or two for drizzling
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 pounds medium-sized brussels sprouts, washed and trimmed
Salt and pepper
6 ounces pancetta in small dice (1 1/2 cups)
3 tablespoons minced shallots
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
1 1/2 cups veal stock, rich chicken or vegetable broth, more if needed
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
Heat oven to 350 degrees. In a bowl, mix bread crumbs and thyme with a couple glugs of olive oil, and spread on a cookie sheet. Toast, tossing frequently, until golden brown, 10 to 12 minutes.
Heat butter and remaining olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat until foamy. Add brussels sprouts, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and sauté, tossing frequently, until lightly browned, about 7 to 10 minutes. Add diced pancetta, and sauté, tossing frequently, until sprouts are well browned and softened slightly, and pancetta is crisp, about 10 to 15 minutes more. Reduce heat, add shallots and garlic, and sauté until fragrant, 2 minutes.
Increase heat to high, add balsamic vinegar and stock, and cook, tossing frequently, until sprouts are glazed and tender, about 20 minutes; add more stock if needed. Taste, adjusting seasoning if necessary, and sprinkle with chopped parsley. Transfer to a warm serving bowl and scatter bread crumbs on top.