Cooking Light Heavy

Penne with Bacon and Brussels Sprouts

This recipe was the one that introduced me to Brussels sprouts. I can never remember my mother making them when I was growing up, and I had always assumed that I wouldn’t like them anyway. Brussels sprouts, after all, are almost the quintessential “bad vegetable” for children. But one day a few years back, I decided that there was really no reason I shouldn’t like Brussels sprouts—I like pretty much every other cruciferous vegetable, and they have the bonus factor of looking like cute miniature cabbages. So when I saw this recipe in an issue of Cooking Light, I reasoned that with pasta, bacon and a Parmesan cream sauce, I could hardly go wrong even if I hated the sprouts after all.

That was just over two years ago, and Brussels sprouts have been a fall and winter staple for us ever since. I’ve learned that I also like them hashed with lemon, roasted with apples and bacon and skillet-sauteed with garlic. Cream-braised sprouts are next on my to-try list, I think. I’ve also learned that frozen Brussels sprouts are indeed pretty awful, and that if I buy a big beautiful stalk of sprouts from the farmer’s market and try to carry it home, I need to be prepared to answer questions from every single person I pass. (For some reason, no one around here knows what Brussels sprouts look like on the stalk. There is something deeply sad about that.)

I’ve made this recipe several times now, and it’s one that we both love. It does require some pot-juggling if you don’t want to dirty your entire kitchen, and the sauce needs quite a bit of patience to thicken. This time around, I was out of milk and trying to use up the remains of a big jug of heavy cream before it went off, so I subbed with that instead. Unsurprisingly, the adjustment worked wonders in the sauce-thickening department, and the pasta reheated beautifully the next day as well. Guess I can’t quite call it a Cooking Light recipe after that, but oh well!

For once, I’m posting a pasta recipe before Friday, so I’ll submit this one for this week’s Presto Pasta Night, hosted by the lovely Ruth.

Penne with Brussels Sprouts and Bacon

12 oz uncooked penne (tube-shaped pasta)
3 C trimmed, halved Brussels sprouts (about 1 pound)
1/4 tsp salt
2 thick applewood-smoked bacon slices, diced
2 T butter
2 T AP flour
1 cup 1% milk (or whole milk, cream, whatever you care to use)
1 (14-oz) can fat-free, less-sodium chicken broth
3/4 C (3 oz) grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, divided
1 T chopped hazelnuts, toasted
1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper

To trim Brussels sprouts, discard the tough outer leaves and trim off about 1/4 inch from stems. Don’t trim too much from the stems, or the sprouts will fall apart. Cook pasta according to package directions. Drain well. Meanwhile, steam Brussels sprouts, covered, 7 minutes or until tender. (I use a pot large enough to hold the pasta with a steamer basket on top for the sprouts, and cook them at once.)

Meanwhile, cook bacon in a Dutch oven over medium-high heat until crisp. Remove bacon from pan, reserving about a tablespoon of drippings in pan. Crumble bacon; set aside. (I use my big non-stick wok-shaped pan for this.) Add Brussels sprouts to the bacon drippings in pan; sauté 5 minutes or until lightly browned. Stir in cooked pasta; cover mixture, and keep warm.

While sprouts brown, melt butter in a saucepan over medium heat; add flour and stir for a minute or two. (I use the same pot I cooked my pasta in, quickly rinsed out.) Combine milk and broth, and heat in the microwave until steaming. Gradually add milk mixture to saucepan, stirring constantly with a whisk until well blended. Cook for 6 minutes or until thickened, stirring constantly. (This generally takes longer for me, but the cream helped a lot!) Stir in 1/4 cup cheese until it melts. Pour sauce over pasta mixture, tossing to coat. Garnish individual portions with remaining cheese, nuts, bacon, and pepper; serve immediately.

Source: Slightly adapted from Cooking Light.

Update 1/18/09: I made this last night without the hazelnuts, and Nolan loved it. He ate lots of pasta (and pushed some around with his fingers), and the Brussels sprouts too, cut up into little bites. I was a little nervous about the bacon being a choking hazard, but I broke down and gave him one tiny morsel, and he loved that too.

Update 3/26/12: Total revamp of this recipe to eliminate the dairy (and potentially the gluten, depending on your choice of pasta). I made a batch of creamy hummus using chickpea flour, reserving part with no cumin and thinned with a bit of pasta water for the sauce. I then cooked the bacon, browned the sprouts in some the drippings and added a bit of pasta water to steam the sprouts until tender under a lid. When the pasta was done, I added it and the thinned hummus sauce to the sprout mixture and tossed it all together. I forgot about the nuts, but they would have been just fine in this flavor profile. I cooked regular penne for us and some GF pasta separately for Nolan (using the water from that pot as I cooked the rest of the meal); he got his slices of bacon while the rest was cooking, and then a bit of hummus tossed into his noodles for dinner. First “cheesy” macaroni sauce he has liked since removing casein from his diet—he ate a whole bowlful! I should also note that this recipe reduces the fat even further from the original and bumps up the protein with chickpeas and tahini, and would taste good with chicken instead of or in addition to the bacon.

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