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Brussels Sprouts with Pancetta and Juniper Berries

(recipe, April Bloomfield & JJ Goode)


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Introduction

A really simple plate of sprouts makes me very happy, especially when they're nice and sweet. In this dish, each bite is different — in some you get a nutty, sweet nibble of garlic, in others you'll fork a sprout along with a big piece of pancetta. The juniper comes through just now and again. You might eat a sprout and not get the juniper, and you might eat another and get the juniper. I kind of like that. The sprouts themselves shouldn't be either too soft or too crunchy. I like soft sprouts, don't get me wrong. But here I like a little crunch. It does depend on your mood, though. Some days I'll turn the heat down after they've got nice color and let them get a bit softer.

Ingredients

  1. 1 lb. medium Brussels sprouts
  2. About ¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
  3. 4 large garlic cloves, halved lengthwise
  4. 2 oz. thinly sliced pancetta (about 6 slices)
  5. 1 tsp. Maldon or another flaky sea salt
  6. About 3 dried pequin chiles or pinches of red-pepper flakes (optional)
  7. 2 juniper berries, smashed and finely chopped
  8. 1½ tsp. thyme leaves, chopped
  9. ½ lemon

Steps

  1. Trim off just a bit from the base of each sprout, then peel off one or two of the tougher outer layers and slice the sprouts in half through the base.
  2. Pour 3 tablespoons of the olive oil into a large pan and set it over high heat. When you see the oil ripple, add the garlic, give the pan a shake, and watch as the garlic sizzles, turning each piece over after 30 seconds or so, until golden brown on both sides, about 1 minute. Scoop out the garlic, leaving the garlicky oil behind, and reserve the cloves on your chopping board or a plate.
  3. Lower the heat to medium and add 3 slices of the pancetta to the pan. Once they shrink up a little, add the rest, shifting the first 3 some so they all have space in the bottom of the pan. Cook, turning them over once or twice, until they're golden brown at the edges and just threatening to crisp, about 3 minutes; I like the pieces to still be a bit floppy. Put them on paper towels to drain.
  4. Add the Brussels sprouts, cut sides down and in one layer, to the porky, garlicky fat in the pan. Cook, using tongs to peek underneath them occasionally to make sure they're getting color. Once the bottoms are a nice dark golden brown, turn the sprouts over and keep cooking until they're as crunchy or soft as you'd like, 8 to 12 minutes in all.
  5. Sprinkle on the salt and chiles, if you're using them, crushing them between your fingers as you do, then add the juniper and toss in the reserved garlic cloves. Toss it all together and take the pan off the heat. Sprinkle in the thyme, add a good squeeze of lemon (you want a bit of brightness, not tartness), and drizzle on about a tablespoon of olive oil. Tear the pancetta slices in half and toss them with the sprouts. Have a taste, and add more salt, another squeeze of lemon, and/or another drizzle of oil, if you'd like. I like to let them chill out for a few minutes and then eat them warm, not hot.