“I’m so excited for you to try this place!”, Bev said with jittery enthusiasm as she and I walked into Pizza Bella in Kansas City late last fall. Meeting our respective Hubbies at the kitchen view bar, Bev and I plopped down next to them and ordered a glass of wine. “Have you ordered us anything yet?”, she asked her Hubs. “The Brussels sprouts, of course!”, he beamed. “OH MY WORD,” she chirped, “good choice.”
…Come again? I was sitting at a chic pizzeria in downtown Kansas City, watching pizza chefs nimbly toss majestic looking pizzas in and around the wood-fired oven right before my eyes, and I’m about to eat a plate of… Brussels sprouts?
Moments later, one of the pizza chefs whipped out an ovenproof skillet, filled it with plump little Brussels sprouts, cubes of pancetta, dried cranberries and blanched almonds, and drizzled it all with a dark, balsamic-y looking dressing. A few quick tosses, and into the wood-fired oven it went. Mere minutes later, the pan emerged, sizzling and crackling. Mere seconds later, I was shoveling Brussels sprouts into my face, ashamed of my flippant dismissal of the little cruciferous wonders.
To say that history has not been kind to the Brussels sprout is an understatement. They, along with the misunderstood lima bean and the oft-rejected turnip, have been given a bad rap over the past decades due to overcooking, under-seasoning, supposed stinkiness, and general mishandling. A member of the Brassica family of vegetables (along with their cousins cabbage, cauliflower and broccoli), Brussels sprouts are virtual nutritional powerhouse, and with the right handling, can be just as delish as they are nutrish.
I thought these Brussels sprouts would be the perfect addition to my Thanksgiving series: a good-for-you green veggie masked with autumn-y almonds and cranberries – and, of course, mouthwatering pancetta. I found my pancetta at Richard’s Meat Market, where I asked for a couple of half-inch-thick slices. Pancetta is similar to bacon, but without the smokiness. It’s traditionally cured with salt, pepper, and other spices, like juniper and garlic; I found a few peppercorns in slices I brought home. Yum.
Allowing the Brussels sprouts to gently brown in the pan before adding the other ingredients mellows their flavor and gives them a subtle sweetness that’s hard to beat, and the pungent, syrupy balsamic at the end rounds it all out. The almonds and cranberries add more flavor and texture, and the pancetta – well, I don’t even have to explain. It’s pancetta. With your Brussels sprouts. Enough said.
So, for those of you out there who are ironclad in your aversion to Brussels sprouts – or if you know someone else who is – this is my challenge to you, dear reader: Make these. Make these, and I guarantee they’ll change your mind. And for those at your Thanksgiving table who DO like Brussels sprouts, you’ll score some serious bonus points with them. Enjoy!
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Thanksgiving Brussels Sprouts
1 lb. Brussels sprouts, trimmed and halved
1/2 lb. thick sliced pancetta, cubed
1/3 c. blanched almonds
1/3 c. dried cranberries
1 Tbs. balsamic vinegar
olive oil, salt and pepper to taste
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil, and prepare an ice bath in a large bowl. Dump the trimmed Brussels sprouts in the boiling water and cook for about three minutes, until they’re bright green and just beginning to soften. Remove them from the boiling water and immediately place them in the ice bath, allowing them to cool completely. Drain them thoroughly, and set them aside.
In a large saute pan, fry the cubed pancetta over medium-low heat until crispy and beginning to brown. Remove the pancetta and drain on a paper towel. Discard all but 1 tablespoon of the pancetta grease, and wipe out the pan.
Place the pan back on the stove, and combine the reserved tablespoon of pancetta grease with 2 tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat. Add the drained Brussels sprouts and cook, stirring occasionally, until they just begin to brown. Add the almonds, cranberries and pancetta, and cook for 2-3 minutes longer, careful not to overbrown the sprouts. Turn off the heat and add the vinegar, stirring to combine. Season with salt and pepper. Serve immediately.
*If the above slideshow doesn’t load, you can view all the photos from this recipe on Flickr.