Merrill's daughter Clara has quite the appetite -- and it's all Merrill can do to keep up. Armed with her greenmarket bag, a wooden spoon and a minimal amount of fuss, she steps into the fray.
Today: Elevate your brussels sprouts with crispy pancetta and garlic.
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Unlike a lot of almost-three-year-olds, Clara tolerates the occasional roasted brussels sprout, but this year for Thanksgiving I wanted something that would get her really excited about them. She loves big flavors, and anything salty and crunchy; with this in mind, I raided the fridge for supplies.
I found some pancetta hiding in the back corner of the cheese drawer, so I chopped it up and crisped it in a pan. I added a splash of olive oil and a minced shallot, followed by a fat clove of garlic (smashed) and a sprig of thyme. Then I tore small, rough croutons from a staling loaf of country bread and toasted them in the oil with the pancetta and aromatics.
The sprouts, which were medium-sized, got quartered (if they were smaller I'd have halved them). Once the bread was crisp and toasty, I pushed everything to the edges of the pan to make room for the sprouts, added another swirl of oil and turned up the heat briefly, tossing in the sprouts before the rest of the ingredients had a chance to scorch. After a minute or two, I took the pan off the heat, seasoned everything with salt, pepper, and nutmeg and gently folded it all together. Then the pan went into a hot oven to finish roasting. A shower of grated Parmesan finished it off.
When I told Amanda that this new preparation had gone over pretty well, she asked, "Didn't the breadcrumbs burn in the oven?" The answer is no, but just barely. They do get quite brown and crisp, as do the pancetta, shallots and garlic, and you need to stir the sprouts once or twice while they're in the oven so nothing sticks. If caramel-colored breadcrumbs are not your thing, keep the heat low on the stove top when you add the sprouts and cover the pan with foil before you put it in the oven. It will still be delicious.