I am a firm believer in trying things, especially foods, at least once. No matter how skeptical I am, or how many bad things I have heard about a food, as long as it looks reasonably edible, I will try it. Opinions can be formed after tasting, not before.
That being said, I blame a Franklin book that I owned when I was six years old for my long-standing assumption that I disliked brussels sprouts. In the book, Franklin the turtle loses his beloved blue blanket. Minor chaos ensues as he experiences a small emotional breakdown, until finally it is found…underneath his chair at the kitchen table, where he has apparently also been stashing brussels sprouts for some time. The sprouts are cold, slimy, and stink. This was my first encounter with the hotly debated vegetable, and not a particularly auspicious introduction.
I don’t remember the first time that I actually tried brussels sprouts, but the smell weirded me out for such a long time that I would only manage the tiniest of bites. I am not a picky eater by nature, but when I decide I dislike something, it usually takes a while for me to change my mind.
Somewhere in my late teens, I began watching cooking shows regularly, appreciating them as more than just appetite-builders. I love comparing techniques and picking up tips and tricks from different tv chefs, even just envying their impressive selection of knives and cookware. It was a Gordon Ramsay Christmas special that caught my interest and made me reevaluate my opinion of sprouts. He raved about how roasting them completely changed the flavour. This peaked my interest, but it was the addition of pancetta that sold me. When has adding bacon not made something better?
We made his recipe for roasted sprouts that Christmas and I fell in love. Over the years, I’ve tweaked the recipe some, depending on what I have in my fridge or what I’m in the mood for that night, but it’s a surprisingly easy recipe for something that becomes so decadent. I can congratulate myself on eating vegetables when it’s a busy night, while also feeling like I’ve accomplished some culinary feat (let’s be honest though, I’m literally throwing some veggies together with oil and bacon, it’s not rocket science).
I consider myself a Brussels Sprouts convert and will openly preach their tastiness to nonbelievers. I once spent so much time describing this particular dish and the way the fatty saltiness of the pancetta combines with the roasty, soft, and yet slight crunchiness of the sprouts that the person I was talking to agreed to make it that night if I would just stop talking about it. So please, please, please, please, have an open mind and come to the dark side. We have bacon.
On a side note, welcome to the first day of the 12 Days of Roasty Melty! Every day up to and including Boxing Day, I will be posting a new recipe, recommendation or story, so make sure to come back and see what I’m up to! Happy Holidays and merry eating!
Serves 4 as a side, or 2ish as a generous main
- 1 lb Brussels Sprouts
- 2 0z pancetta (I get the pre-diced kind, but if you can only get it uncut, make sure to dice it into lardons, or small cubes. Not too big! Also, you can put more pancetta in here, just eyeball it to make sure it looks like a good amount to go with your sprouts)
- olive oil (enough to drizzle, not much, maybe a few teaspoons worth)
- cloves of garlic, either crushed with the flat of a knife, or cut in half (have enough so it looks right to you in proportion to the amount of veggies you have. I like a lot of garlic, so I would go with at least 3 smallish cloves for this amount of sprouts, but you may want more or less depending on your preferences)
- lemon zest (optional)
- Preheat oven to 450 F.
- Cut the base off of the brussels sprouts (you know the part I’m talking about right? Not too much of the sprout, just that little hard nubbin bit) then cut sprouts in half lengthwise
- If pancetta is not diced, do that now.
- Put sprouts, pancetta and garlic in a large roasting dish together and drizzle over with olive oil. You shouldn’t need too much as some fat will render out of the pancetta. Toss together with your hands, make sure it feels like everything is nicely and lightly coated.
- Roast in oven for about 25 minutes or until the brussels sprouts are tender when you stick a fork into them, and they look browned around the edges. They shouldn’t be burnt, but they will have some crispy bits. We’re looking for caramelized, not charred. Stir once or twice during the cooking process.
- Should you feel so inclined, nobody would hate you if you added a sprinkling of lemon zest or a squirt of lemon juice before serving to brighten it up. If you don’t have any because you decided not to shop with a grocery list this week and just wing it as some of us do sometimes (cough *me* cough), they’ll still taste great without the lemon.
- Serve warm as a side or as a main.