Sunday, December 11, 2016

Recipe of the Month: Roasted Brussels Sprouts and Potatoes with Pecans

In the past few years, Brian and I have become big fans of Brussels sprouts. (We've even attempted repeatedly to grow them in our garden—but after three years of experimenting and no success producing sprouts bigger than a marble, we've decided our soil just isn't Brussels-sprout-friendly.) Our favorite way to cook them, hands down, is the Roasted Brussels Sprouts recipe from Mark Bittman, which was my Recipe of the Month back in March of 2014. It's incredibly easy to do, and though the results vary somewhat—sometimes the sprouts are tender, sometimes crispy, depending on their size—it's always yummy.

Lately, however, I've begun to think we're getting into a Brussels sprout rut. I know there are other good ways to cook them, but every time we get our hands on a bag, we just default to our old standard. So when the latest issue of Savory magazine (the freebie from Stop & Shop) offered up a feature on Brussels sprouts complete with several recipes, I thought maybe this was a good chance to try mixing it up a little. I clipped a couple of recipes that looked promising, and we settled on the Roasted Brussels Sprouts and Potatoes with Pecans (page 39) as the one we'd like to try first.

However, finding the ingredients proved a little challenging. We usually pick up Brussels sprouts at Trader Joe's, but on our last trip there, we discovered the bagged sprouts they usually offer had suddenly disappeared. They had fresh sprouts on the stalk, but those were about twice as expensive, as well as being more work to prepare, so we decided they weren't worth it. And since we didn't get the sprouts, we concluded there was no point in buying pecans, the other ingredient we needed for the recipe, which we'd planned to pick up on the same trip.

That turned out to be a shortsighted move on our part, however. Last Friday, with Brian off work for the day, we decided to make a foray out to the Amish market in Kingston, and while there, we happened on some Brussels sprouts for just $2.49 a pound, the same price we usually pay at Trader Joe's. So we snapped those up straightaway, figuring we could make the new recipe this weekend after all...only to realize that we didn't have the pecans, and the Amish market doesn't carry those.

So we quickly formulated a plan B. We'd received a flier advertising a new Aldi in our area that was supposed to have its grand opening on Thursday, so we figured we could just stop by there over the weekend, pick up a few sale items, and grab a bag of reasonably-priced pecans while we were at it. This plan, however, turned out to have a fatal flaw: when we showed up at the new Aldi today, right around noon, we found several people standing around outside, making no move to enter. When we approached the door, we could see why: the doors were locked, and there was a big sign on the front apologizing for the delay and redirecting us to another Aldi several miles away. It was really weird, because the lights were on in the store, and as best we could see from the door, the shelves appeared to be fully stocked; there were even several people inside. But no one was being admitted, and there was no indication why.

Disgruntled, we decided we'd just pop by the local Stop & Shop and buy some pecans there, even if we ended up having to pay a premium for them. There, our luck finally turned: we discovered a one-pound bag of pecans sitting all by itself on the shelf, with no price marked anywhere, and when we scanned it at the store's little barcode reader, it turned out to be just $7.99—the same per-price pound we'd have paid if we'd just bought them at the Trader Joe's in the first place.

So tonight, at last, we were able to prepare the recipe. We made some minor modifications to the version presented in Savory; it called for a 20-ounce package of "refrigerated sliced potatoes and onions," which we naturally dismissed as an overpriced and overpackaged absurdity, so Brian just diced up a roughly equivalent quantity of plain old bagged potatoes and red onions. We also used free-range bacon ends from the Amish market rather than the sliced bacon the recipe called for, and we left out the half cup of ricotta cheese it says to use as a topping, since neither of us cares for it much. Brian just added a bit of salt at the end of the roasting instead.

The result was, as we expected, quite tasty. Brian commented that he wouldn't have expected bacon and pecans to be two great tastes that tasted great together, but the flavors actually harmonized quite nicely. The presence of the bacon lent a nice smoky overtone to everything, and the crunch of the pecans contrasted nicely with the tenderness of the veggies. Our only quibble was that the sprouts, after their long, slow roasting, seemed a bit dry. We thought perhaps the ricotta was meant to ameliorate this, but it didn't seem like quite the right flavor for the job to us.

What we really thought would improve it would be some sort of glaze on the sprouts...perhaps one made with maple syrup, since that's another flavor that goes well with both bacon and pecans. And Brian remembered that we happened to have some homemade pancake syrup in the fridge, left over from our last batch of waffles. It had crystallized a bit, but there was enough liquid in there for us each to extract a dab and try it on the sprouts, and we immediately agreed that this was exactly what it needed. So next time we make this, we're planning to drizzle a little maple syrup (or more likely, our faux-maple equivalent) over the sprouts before roasting them, and we think this will elevate the recipe from merely good to truly scrumptious.

So with a little more modification, we're expecting this recipe to become a permanent part of our veggie repertoire. And meanwhile, we still have the other Brussels sprout recipe from Savory to try, possibly expanding our collection of Brussels sprout dishes still more.
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