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Home with the Lost Italian: Brussels sprouts mellowed, sweetened by roasting

Brussels sprouts are tossed with bacon, scallions and olive oil before being roasted. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor1 / 2
Brussels sprouts grow on a thick stalk. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor2 / 2

Years ago, if you had told me I would willingly dedicate an entire column to Brussels sprouts, I would have thought you were crazy. Up until about six years ago, Brussels sprouts were not just low on my list of preferred foods, they were my food-nemesis. As a mayo-phobe, I could almost include mayonnaise in this group, except I don’t consider it to be a real food.

I was a very picky eater as a child. My parents would endlessly try to introduce new foods into my routine, but I was stubborn and known to hold my ground. When I was about 9 or 10, my mother served Brussels sprouts one night with dinner. She had served them several times before, but I had always managed to avoid having to eat one. However, on this night, there must have been something extra-irritating about my reaction that moved my parents into battle mode.

Maybe my eyes rolled one too many times, or my words of protest were too pronounced. Whatever it was, my parents were suddenly determined that this was the night I would try my first Brussels sprout. Just one, they said, and if I didn’t like it I wouldn’t have to eat them ever again. Just try it, Sarah, you might like it.

I refused, and continued eating my dinner. But my parents were adamant, and after everyone had finished their dinner, they announced that I could leave the table only after I’d tried a Brussels sprout.

A smarter kid would have sucked it up and quickly downed a sprout, but I was in a prickly mood that night and decided to dig my heels in. No, I said, I will not be having Brussels sprouts tonight, or ever. I sat at that table as everyone left to pursue other evening activities, and didn’t leave my chair until two hours later when my mom came in, defeated, and told me to go to bed. That was the last time my parents and I ever fought about food.

Triumphant in my victory, I never looked back, and until six years ago had never even tasted the food I despised so much as a child. But on my 39th birthday, Tony and Gio took me out for dinner to celebrate, and the vegetable that accompanied my chosen entrée was the dreaded Brussels sprout.

On the cusp of approaching a new decade in my life, I decided it was time to face my fear of this leafy green villain. I’m so glad I did, because I learned that I loved Brussels sprouts. Even more surprising, our then 5-year-old son, Gio, loved them too.

Like most leafy green vegetables, Brussels sprouts are rich in vitamins and full of wonderful health benefits. They can have a very strong, almost bitter flavor, but roasting them mellows out the bitterness and allows their natural sweetness to come through. We often add bacon and shallots to our mix before roasting, which makes them taste even better.

The farmers markets are exploding right now with quirky stalks full of fresh Brussels sprouts, which charmingly resemble tiny Christmas trees. Fresh sprouts are better than frozen, and buying them on the stalk makes the process even more fun.

I’m sure my parents are rolling their eyes and chuckling to each other as they read this, thinking that I could have learned this lesson all those years ago. But, better late than never, right?

Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Bacon

Serves: 4 to 6

Ingredients

1 pound fresh Brussels sprouts, halved

6 slices bacon, roughly chopped

½ cup diced shallots

⅓ cup olive oil

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1 teaspoon pepper

Directions

Wash the Brussels sprouts, removing the brown ends and any yellow outer leaves before cutting each in half. Dry on a paper towel.

In a frying pan, sauté the bacon over medium heat until half-cooked, approximately 5 minutes, then add the shallots and continue cooking for another 3 minutes.

In a medium bowl, toss together the Brussels sprouts, cooked bacon, shallots, bacon fat, olive oil, salt and pepper until mixed. Transfer the mixture to a baking sheet and roast in a 400-degree oven for 10 minutes. The Brussels sprouts are ready when they are golden brown and the bacon is crisp. Remove and serve immediately.

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