Growing up, I was made to eat vegetables just as much as the next kid. Broccoli was at the top of my hate list, closely followed by mushy cooked carrots (one of the only veggies I still won’t eat). But I never had to face brussels sprouts. My mom didn’t like them as a child, so she never subjected them to our family. I felt lucky about this… if the adults in my family wouldn’t eat them, they must be that bad.
I don’t know what prompted brussels sprouts to go from America’s most hated veggie to darn near the most loved one, but I’m glad they did. Like most things, I’m sure it has everything to do with the preparation. They’re so great roasted until golden, or flash fried until crisp. Here, I coat them with a little balsamic and pan-roast them, then toss with shells, a little cheese and some bright squeezes of lemon.
1/4 red onion (less than 1/2 cup), chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 cups brussels sprouts, sliced in half
1-2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon butter
squeezes of lemon juice, plus some zest for the end
6-8 oz. mini pasta shells
1/2 cup pecorino cheese, shredded
a few pinches of red pepper flakes
optional meat-eater addition: crispy bacon or pancetta
In a large skillet, cook the onions in just a bit of the olive oil with a few pinches of salt. Once they’re soft (3-4 minutes), add the minced garlic and cook for 30 seconds more. Turn off the heat and remove the onions from the pan.
In a small bowl, toss the brussels sprout halves in a bit of balsamic vinegar, a drizzle of olive oil, salt and pepper.
Wipe out the pan you just used for the onions and heat more olive oil and the butter. When the pan is screaming hot add the brussels sprouts, cut side down. Without moving them, let them cook for about 3-4 minutes, until they develop a nice char (check and reduce heat & time if they’re burning).
Flip them over and add a good squeeze of lemon to deglaze the pan. Toss them around a bit. Reduce heat to low, and add a few tablespoons of water. Cover and let them steam until tender (approx. 4-5 minutes more).
Boil shells in a pot of salted boiling water until al dente.
Toss together the shells, onions, brussels sprouts, more lemon juice, and most of the pecorino. Taste and adjust seasonings. Finish with remaining cheese, lemon zest and red pepper flakes.