Little miniatures of their larger cabbage brothers, it’s hard to not love these leafy green cuties – but not quite impossible. They were my childhood’s nightmare, an acquired taste coming at costs I wasn’t will to pay. With a great deal of persistence, my cunning mum wanted to coax me into liking them by sauteing them with breadcrumbs – a very legit attempt. Anything involving butter-browned breadcrumbs increases the odds tenfold, but I was a hard nut to crack. Somehow I only have bad memories attached to Brussels sprouts, the brash kitchen smell after cooking them, a nasty pot coaster showing cheesy 70s flowers, the usual and inevitable long discussion (“Pleeease, just try a single ONE!“) at our kitchen table, they never had a real chance to make it on my shortlist.
Over the years I felt comforted by the thought, that I wasn’t all by myself with this antipathy and never contemplated cutting it some slack. Then things started to change. What did I miss? All of a sudden I saw myself surrounded by Brussels sprouts loving people, a conspiracy? What was up with everybody!? I felt like on a culinary life raft far away from the shore. Luckily adulthood not only brings bills and a few more wrinkles but the ability to revisit a preconception and acknowledge an error. Was it an obvious sign, when I recently stumbled onto Petra’s latest Brussels sprout recipe? I couldn’t escape any longer.
My own version involves some fresh red chili, pine nuts and pancetta and turned out everything I had hoped for. Taking a big bite made my culinary senses jump from crunchy over nutty to spicy and back again. But because my greedy boyfriend (a Brussels sprouts lover since birth), literally breathing them in, didn’t much care to leave enough to further foster this new and still fragile friendship – I simply had to cook this meal again the following day. Needless to say that when I told my mum on the phone about the 2nd time she was fully convinced I was pulling her leg. She left it at “I will have to see it with my own eyes“, obviously she also has a hard time letting go bad veggie memories. Even if her memories are more related to the Brussels sprout-rebellious kid than to the green babies themselves.
Preheat the oven to 200°C (~390°F). Wash the Brussels sprouts, trim the stems and remove dowdy leaves. Cut in halves, then quarters, each time stem to top, so the quarters don’t fall apart.
In a bowl carefully mix together the Brussels sprouts with the olive oil, sugar, salt and pepper, the Dijon mustard and the finely chopped red chili until everything is well distributed and evenly coated. You could also add the pine nuts now, but in my second batch I browned them in a later step together with the bread crumbs, which I think is even tastier.
Transfer the Brussels sprouts into a baking dish and distribute the Pancetta – cut in small stripes – over it. Bake in the oven for 20 to 25 minutes, turning them once or twice. (Take samples: when the edges start to turn brown to early and the Brussels sprouts are not done yet, you may cover the baking dish with aluminum foil) Meanwhile prepare the breadcrumbs. Heat the butter in a larger pan, add the slightly crushed pine nuts and the coarse breadcrumbs as soon as it starts to sizzle. Allow to gain a golden brown color, then remove from the stove and put aside for serving.
When done, remove the Brussels sprouts from the oven and sprinkle generously with the breadcrumbs/pine nuts mix and some Parmesan. Best eaten straight from the oven!
Oven baked Brussels sprouts
own creation, inspired by Petra's recipe
Prep time: 20min., baking: 20-25min.
Ingredients (serves 2-3 as a light lunch):
500g Brussels sprouts
2 tbsp olive oil
2 tsp Dijon mustard
1 tsp sugar
sea salt & freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 smaller red chili, finely chopped
~5 thin slices of Pancetta
2 tbsp butter
25g pine nuts
50g coarse breadcrumbs (e.g. from stale baguette)
serve with some grated Parmesan or Pecorino