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Orecchiette with Brussels Sprouts and Toasted Bread Crumbs

December 1, 2010

Multiple servings of turkey, first roasted then reintroduced as turkey stew, spiral ham, beef stew, a cheeseburger and countless sticks of pork barbecue–all consumed since Thursday.  I happily yielded to this glutton fest disguised as Thanksgiving but I think the party should have ended a few days ago.  This normally enthusiastic carnivore has had enough meat for a while…or at least for the next couple of days.

What came together tonight was a product of two recipes that I combined to make a satisfying meal–and a 180 degree turn from the meat fest I’ve indulged in.  In Alice Waters’ Chez Panisse Vegetables I found a different way of serving brussels sprouts:  It involved separating the individual leaves before cooking them.  As tedious as the task sounded, I was curious about cooking brussels sprouts this way.  I didn’t expect dramatic results but I’ve had pleasant experiences using broccoli rabe and radicchio in pasta, both possessing a mildly bitter quality like the sprout, so I thought, why not?  Then I also remembered that I’ve been meaning to try a bucatini and bread crumb dish from Lidia Bastianich–the bread crumbs and brussels sprouts sounded like a good match to me.

Separating the leaves of the brussels sprouts turned out not to be such a big chore.  I removed the core of each sprout with a small knife, separated all the leaves I could and sliced thinly the remainder.  Sautéed in garlic and olive oil and tossed with the chewy orecchiete (“little ears”) the brussels sprouts were more delicate, sweeter.  The bread crumbs, which I toasted with sliced garlic and dried oregano provided a crispy contrast (and I think are a must in this dish) while some grated Parmigiano-Reggiano gave the overall dish just the right amount of saltiness it needed.

The key to this dish is in the proportions.  The book did not specify amounts in the recipe so I started with a little over a pound of brussels sprouts, a heaping cup of bread crumbs and a pound of pasta.  As it turned out, I only used about half of the latter.  You’re familiar with the adage “there’s strength in numbers.” With the leaves separated, the brussels sprouts lost what some might consider their offensive bite.  They became little petals of veggie goodness.  Consequently, adding a pound of dense orecchiette would have overpowered the sprouts and resulted in a bland dish.  This amount still yielded two generous portions.

Tip:  For a bolder flavor, I would consider adding some chopped anchovies to the olive oil before sautéing the sprouts.  Next time.

Orecchiette with Brussels Sprouts and Toasted Bread Crumbs

  • 1 – 1 1/4 pound brussels sprouts
  • Approx 8 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
  • Crushed red pepper
  • 2 medium shallots, sliced thinly
  • Day-old sourdough bread, edges cut off and processed to yield a heaping cup of crumbs
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • Olive oil
  • Parmigiano-Reggiano
  • Juice of half a lemon
  • Splash or two of chicken stock (or vegetable stock)
  • 1/2 pound of orecchiette pasta (to serve two people)

Bring a pot of water to a boil.  Salt the water before boiling the orecchiette.

To toast the breadcrumbs, Heat at least a 1/4 cup of olive oil over medium-high heat.  Add about 5 cloves sliced garlic and cook until they’re pale and just slightly colored.  Add the bread crumbs and make sure they’re tossed well in the olive oil.  Watch your heat and turn down to medium if you have to.  Stir frequently, making sure that the garlic doesn’t turn too brown.  When the bread crumbs start to get a little color, add the dried oregano and cook until the bread crumbs and garlic are uniformly toasted and brown.  Transfer to a bowl and set aside.

To prepare the brussels sprouts, separate the leaves by using a small paring knife to cut out the core of each sprout.  Most of the leaves should pull apart easily.  As you reach center of the sprout, the leaves will become more difficult to separate.  At this point, I sliced the sprout thinly and added to the leaves.

Heat a few tablespoons of oil in the same sauté pan.  Add the sprout leaves and toss for a minute or two or until some of the leaves start to get brown.  Sweep the sprouts to the outer edges of the pan and add the shallots, crushed red pepper and the remainder sliced garlic.  Add a little more olive oil if the pan seems too dry and cook the new additions for about a minute before tossing with the sprouts.  Continue to sauté for a few more minutes until the sprout leaves start to turn brown.  Add salt and pepper to taste, as well as the juice of about half a lemon.  By this time, the pasta should be done.  Drain and toss with the sprouts.  The pasta may seem too dry at this point so feel free to add a splash or two of chicken or vegetable stock for more moisture.  Add most of the toasted bread crumbs and toss well.  Transfer to a serving dish and top with Parmigiano-Reggiano and the remaining toasted bread crumbs.  One last drizzle of olive oil wouldn’t hurt either.  Enjoy!

37 Comments leave one →
  1. December 1, 2010 6:45 AM

    Well I say brussel sprouts have never looked so beautiful! That photo of them in a bowl? Totally gorgeous. The colours are spot on.

    I know exactly what I’m going to be doing with my leftover Christmas brussel sprouts, now!

    Jax x

  2. December 1, 2010 8:00 AM

    That sounds really good!

  3. December 1, 2010 8:45 AM

    This dish looks so tempting. Im im love with the photo of the brussel sproats!..(strange as it sounds)

  4. December 1, 2010 11:07 AM

    Jean – “great minds think alike” – we were both on a brussels sprouts kick. 🙂 Your pasta dish looks and sounds incredible. The touch of green just adds to the dish. Actually I could eat them almost everyday and the chef at the party told me about another preparation that I am going to try plus the new Botegga cookbook has a great brussels salad in there. Hope you have a great day!!!

    • December 6, 2010 4:41 PM

      Lisa, I have to say that over the last few years my love for brussels sprouts has grown–can’t wait to see your next posts so I can give them a try too. 🙂

  5. December 1, 2010 12:02 PM

    What a wonderful dish! I love brussels sprouts, i might even say that it’s my favorite vegetable. I think it’s a great idea to separate out the leaves to include it in pasta, otherwise i think the brussels sprouts would be a little dis-proportionate. I really want to try this… My husband doesn’t like brussels sprouts but i think since they are a little watered down (meaning he wouldn’t be taking huge bites of dense sprouts) in this dish, maybe he would like it.

    How do you like that cookbook? I love vegetables but i’ve found that cookbooks for different cuisines (Korean, greek etc) rather than more comprehensive ones work best for me because I cook based off of what style of food i’m on the mood for.

    • December 6, 2010 4:46 PM

      Roxan, I like the way the book is organized. I spent some time looking through it one night, hoping to be inspired to make a new (to me) vegetarian dish and this was the product of that read. I recommend it.

      If you do serve this to your husband, I hope he enjoys it. 🙂

  6. December 1, 2010 12:38 PM

    I made brussels sprouts w/ breadcrumbs for my husband and he didn’t care for them at all, but I LOVED them. I am going to keep cooking them for him until he likes them, hehe.

    This is a gorgeous dish, the brussels sprouts’ leaves mimic the shape the the oriecchiete! 🙂

    • December 6, 2010 4:47 PM

      Nadia, you’re so right about the shape of the pasta and the brussels sprouts–they made a good pair in this dish. 🙂

  7. December 1, 2010 6:28 PM

    I’m happy to see some posts with creative ways to prepare Brussels sprouts – they’re so misunderstood 😉 I’m trying your pasta dish real soon (and Lisa’s Bruschetta) YUM.

  8. December 1, 2010 8:50 PM

    You deserve a prize just for separating 1 lb of brussels sprouts 🙂 The pasta looks amazing and btw, orecchiette are my all times favorite type/shape of pasta. Toasted bread crumbs seem to me like the perfect final touch. But once again….I’m never invited to dinner at your place when you make these amazing pasta dishes, how come? I guess you don’t have much leftovers huh? 🙂

    • December 6, 2010 4:49 PM

      Sara, we’ll have to plan a get-together sometime after the holidays–it would be fun. I had no idea orecchiette was one of your faves–I bet you make some mean pasta dishes. I’m sure I could use some lessons from you. Hope you feel better. 🙂

  9. December 2, 2010 7:48 AM

    I had seen this dish before and planned to try it and then I forgot all about it! Love it though and your version looks beautiful and mouthwatering!

  10. December 2, 2010 9:21 AM

    I love pasta and I love brussels sprouts. This sounds like an interesting, but lovely, combo. I’ll have to give it a shot.

  11. December 2, 2010 9:55 AM

    I love brussels sprouts — I’m actually growing some in my garden right now and am keeping my fingers crossed for a harvest soon…(thus far I see no buds) :(! This recipe looks delicious and savory, I may just skip the wait and buy some this week, you’ve inspired me!

    • December 6, 2010 4:54 PM

      Joy, I will keep my fingers crossed for your brussels sprouts harvest, too. They’re so much better freshly picked. This dish does works well for the store-bought once, though. Thanks!

  12. December 2, 2010 12:42 PM

    Yum! I should try shredding sprouts more often, like what you did here. Maybe then my family would be more willing to eat them. I love orecchiette pasta and with the fresh bread crumbs, delicious!

    • December 6, 2010 5:18 PM

      Hi Trish! This was my first time serving sprouts this way and I was very pleased with the results. The bread crumbs are a must! 🙂

  13. December 2, 2010 6:14 PM

    So pretty. Great use of brussels sprouts….I’m always looking for more to do with these. 😉

  14. December 2, 2010 11:50 PM

    Wow! This looks delicious. I adore Brussels sprouts and I’m very intrigued by the idea of separating the leaves. Ryan and I want to try this recipe soon…and I think the anchovies are an excellent idea. Thank you so much for sharing. I hope you have a lovely Friday!

    • December 7, 2010 9:24 PM

      Monet, I hope you and Ryan like this dish. My husband has asked me to mark this one as a favorite–music to my ears! 🙂

  15. December 3, 2010 3:27 PM

    My mouth is watering!! What a great looking dish!

  16. December 3, 2010 4:34 PM

    This reminds me of an orecchietti recipe I haven’t made in almost 10 years but without the sprouts since I don’t like them. 🙂 Do you think that separating the petals will help someone like me actually become a converted brussel sprout lover? Recently, I keep seeing them at the different supermarkets where I shop, but I just-a-keep-on-a-walkin’. 🙂 I really need to try the bread crumbs… it makes the dish look very comforting!

    • December 7, 2010 9:27 PM

      Judy, I separating the leaves might help with your aversion to the sprouts. I also removed the core of the sprouts which I think eliminated some of the bitterness that some people don’t like. If you’re lucky enough to get sprouts still in their stalks, that would help, too. The bread crumbs do contribute a lot to this dish, though. 🙂

  17. December 4, 2010 10:18 AM

    Hi Jean, this looks wonderful, I have the Chez Panisse vegetable cookbook and like all of the Chez Panisse cookbooks it is full of good recipes. I haven’t made anything with brussels sprouts this season but your dish is kind of talking to me:) Have a nice weekend, stay warm!

    • December 7, 2010 9:28 PM

      Hi Patty, I’ve been enjoying going through the recipes in this book. I have a few of the other Chez Panisse books, too, so I’ll be pulling them off the shelves for more inspiration. Hope you had a nice weekend! 🙂

  18. December 4, 2010 12:49 PM

    Gee, something I would never have thought of but it makes perfect sense. Brilliant!

  19. i2ics permalink
    December 4, 2010 3:40 PM

    I must be losing it. I swear I left a comment on this already. Maybe I just think I did because it is sooo something I would make (not as well of course, but similar!). GREG

  20. December 4, 2010 4:27 PM

    That looks delicious, and I think anchovies would be delightful here 🙂

  21. December 5, 2010 8:41 AM

    What a fantastic recipe. I have never pulled apart brussel sprouts before and love the garlic.

  22. December 6, 2010 4:38 AM

    Hi! I have an award for you! To me you fully emody the spirit of this award. Congratulations! Please come by my blog to learn more and ‘pick it up’.

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