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Balsamic-Roasted Brussels Sprouts

The Challenge:

This week we had this side dish, found on page 196 of the cookbook or found here, and an appetizer. For those of you with a sweet tooth, someday we'll get to a dessert!

Mary's Take:

Ah, fall. I am a huge fan of pot and comfort food and the cooler weather makes me want to warm my kitchen with soups, stews, roasts, and the like. Earthy Brussels sprouts [Lea: It’s Brussels sprouts? I always thought it was brussel sprouts! Is the s in Brussels silent or have I been saying it wrong, too?] [Mary: Who can tell?] are perfect accompaniments, don’t you agree? [Lea: I doubt most people agree with that.] Fortunately for me, I smartly scheduled them for this week’s challenge!

We didn’t grow up eating Brussels sprouts. Our vegetables consisted of broccoli, spinach…and broccoli and spinach [Lea: And corn]. (Mom may say that’s because it’s all we would eat, but I’m betting it’s because that’s what she likes. To this day, and even though many of us have expanded our veggie repertoire, she makes broccoli with every family dinner. Sorry, Mommy!)

This past week, the temps hovered around 70, so I began itching for these (warning: cliché alert!) soul-warming meals [Lea: insert eye roll]. I decided to make meatloaf, mashed potatoes, and the recipe de la semaine [Lea: That's "recipe of the week" for all you non-French-speakers], Balsamic-Roasted Brussels Sprouts. I’ve made Ina Garten’s regular and turkey meatloaves before but thought I’d kill two birds with one stone this week and try the 1770 House Meatloaf (page 129 of the cookbook), even though we’re not scheduled to make it until February of next year. (Hopefully, my notes will make sense to me 5 months from now…I’ll probably have to make it again to remind myself.)

Question: how do y’all pick up free-flowing veggies at the grocery store in this COVID world? I mean, I’m at the store, staring at the giant bin of sprouts, wondering how I’m supposed to get them into my plastic bag. Before all this (and why does this sound so gross now?), I would just grab grubby handfuls and stuff them into my baggie. (No worries, I’d wash them later.) I stood there for a hot minute wondering if I should ask the produce man the correct protocol, but decided to just throw another bag over my hand (like my dog’s poop-scooping bag) and use it as a glove to get my 1.5 lbs. [Lea: Brilliant! I’ve been wondering how to do this myself and feel weird when I pick up a piece of produce, decide I don’t like it, and (cringe) put. it. back.] Weird times.

I still washed them, btw. [Lea: Naturally.]

Now, the recipe calls for a balsamic glaze, and I know it’s something I could buy in a bottle, but, as I need no more condiment bottles [Lea: This is the truth. Y’all need to take a trip inside my sister’s fridge sometime – it’s fascinating.], I made my own by cooking down the balsamic I already have. I set about that task, which I read should take about 10 minutes for perfect syrupy-ness. I kept checking mine to see if it was the proper viscosity, deciding it wasn’t yet, and letting it simmer.

(I love my little pot. It’s the perfect size for melting butter or tasks like this. Get one for yourself.)

The balsamic I use is already a bit thick, so it probably didn’t need to cook down as long as I allowed it; by the time I was ready to drizzle it over my cooked sprouts, it was more of a paste. No worries, though, I added some hot water and whisked it back into saucy submission.

Instead of the usual bacon that's used in a lot of Brussels sprouts recipes, this one calls for pancetta. I took a little shortcut and bought the pre-cut, perfectly-measured-at-4-oz. little package of pancetta. (I like to keep one in the freezer, so if I see it on sale, I buy one or two.) This was a tiny mistake and I'll tell you why later.

Our last house had double wall ovens, but in our current one, we have a range that has a 30” and an 18” oven. Usually, it’s not an issue…a lot of what I cook for just the 2 of us fits in the small oven. And even at Thanksgiving, it has worked out fine since it has 3 racks that hold 9x13 casserole dishes. But since I was making this giant 3-lbs-of-meat(!) 1770 House Meatloaf (Lea and her family agreed to come over for dinner that day) [Lea: Agreed to? I think it was me texting, “I don’t have to cook today? We’ll be over!”], and the cooking temps were different, the sprouts were relegated to the small oven. Which is why they were so crowded on my baking sheet.

And, since things were crowded, the sprouts didn’t brown the way they would've had they had space to spread out with their cut surfaces on the pan (probably should've used 2 pans). Instead, they steamed a bit. I like my sprouts crispy, so I just kept turning and cooking them until they reached my desired doneness.

Good char on some of them, right?

I drizzled the reconstituted balsamic syrup over them and served them up alongside the meatloaf, mashed potatoes, and salad.

Lea’s Take:

Well, I, once again, failed at a recipe. Listen, I know my family. And they ain’t eating Brussels sprouts, I don’t care what you put on it. [Mary: Hunh. This challenge is going to be a lot less fun if you take out all the recipes you decide they won't like.] [Lea: You may have a point.] Not that they’ve ever eaten Brussels sprouts to know they wouldn’t like them, but that’s beside the point. [Mary: Sounds like Mom's philosophy.] [Lea: Did you just call me Mom?!] It could also be me projecting because I, myself, had never eaten a Brussels sprout in my life before this challenge. I figured that us eating at Mary’s that night counted enough [Mary: Still proud of you for trying!] and I still had one recipe to get through this week. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

The Results:

I’m going commit love-for-all-things-Ina blasphemy and tell you this recipe was not a great success for me…but it was completely my fault, so I shan’t blame the recipe. I will, however, give you the benefit of what I learned so that it WILL be a success for you.

The recipe calls for “4 ounces pancetta, sliced ¼ inch thick”. Then, we’re instructed to “Cut the pancetta into ½-inch dice and add to the pan.” I should've read the instructions instead of just the ingredient list – I would've gone to the deli counter and asked for a slab of pancetta. [Lea: Aha! This is something I learned with the first recipe. Read the instructions first!] Because I cooked the sprouts for longer than I should have, the tiny pre-cut pieces became overcooked and hard. Like, nearly break-a-tooth hard. Don’t do that. Get a slab and cut it into the larger pieces she recommends.

My husband still liked it, thought it had a great mixture of sweet and savory, so I will definitely make it again – with the benefit of knowing how to do it the right way. And the pancetta softened in the leftovers container, making them edible -- er, enjoyable.

My nephews, Mr. Good Eater and Mr. Picky Pants, probably wished I would have just made broccoli.

In other news, Lea tried her first Brussels sprout ever! [Lea: I did! I’m growing!]

[Lea (con’t): To add to that, I liked them. I didn’t even mind that the pancetta was overdone. And the balsamic glaze was delightful. I probably won’t ever make them in my house, but if Mary makes them again, I’ll throw one or two on my plate.

Mr. Good Eater took one bite, said it was fine, and never looked at it again.

I’m pretty sure it didn’t even make Mr. Picky Pants’ plate.]

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Sep 22, 2020

Looks great! We make these a lot. Not Ina's recipe though. We normally get bagged Brussels from Costco (easy!) and use bacon. Douse with straight balsamic after (not reduced).


Sep 21, 2020

I'd Hoover those Brussels in a minute. Yummm... especially the extra done ones. Me <3 Brussels.

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