brussels sprouts gratin

After a super-gluttonous Thanksgiving feast including turkey, ham, prime rib, countless sides and I don’t know how many desserts, I feel the need to eat veggies. And only veggies for a long, long time.  I managed to get my hands on a stalk of brussels sprouts during a recent run to Berkeley Bowl, produce mecca of the SF East Bay. I find the presentation of brussels on the stalk so impressive, and it might just be my imagination, but I swear they taste better too.

I know that some people are probably cringing at the thought of brussels sprouts because they’ve been scarred by the bad experiences of their youth, such as my father, who to this day insists that they are the only vegetable he does not like. Because I think brussels sprouts are really tasty, I feel inclined to clear them of their bad rap. I’ll be the first to admit that at their worst (i.e. undercooked) brussels are terribly hard and bitter. When cooked properly, however, they are full of flavor and have great texture.

While I love the simple preparation of roasted or sauteed brussels sprouts, I knew they would be even more glorious gratineed, because everything is better with a little cream and a crusty golden top, no? Needless to say, this Alice Waters recipe was so delish I practically licked my plate clean.

brussels sprouts gratin

adapted from Alice Waters’ The Art of Simple Food

1 pound brussels sprouts

3 slices bacon or 3 slices pancetta

1/2 cup half-and-half or a combination of half-and-half and heavy cream (my choice)

2/3 cup fresh bread crumbs

1 tablespoon butter plus extra for dish

1 clove garlic, chopped

1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme

salt

fresh ground pepper

To make the breadcrumbs:

Preheat oven to 350°F. Remove crust from day old levain or country style bread and cut into cubes.  Grind in a blender or food processor until coarse. Toss with pinch of salt and olive oil (recommended 1 tablespoon oil for every cup of bread crumbs). Spread crumbs on a baking sheet in a thin layer. Bake until golden brown, stirring every few minutes for even browning.

Butter a gratin or baking dish and set aside. Preheat oven to 400°F. Trim the stems and remove the outer leaves from the brussels sprouts. Cook in salted boiling water until tender, about 10 minutes. Drain well and coarsely chop.

Cut bacon into half inch pieces and cook in a heavy pan over medium heat until just rendered and limp. Add the garlic and thyme and stir until fragrant. Add chopped sprouts and season with salt and pepper. Cook until brussels are well coated. Transfer to buttered baking dish and spread evenly. Pour half-and-half over sprouts and sprinkle breadcrumbs evenly over the mixture. Scatter thin shavings of butter on top of breadcrumbs. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes until golden and bubbling. Serve immediately.