When I was little, my mom got it into her head that my brother and I should expand our vegetable repitoire beyond our usual frozen peas and dinner salad. Never being one to shy away from a self-proclaimed challenge, naturally she decided we'd go big and start with Brussel Sprouts. This being the early 80's, when the microwave was the preferred method of cooking, these were frozen, boxed, microwaveable Brussel Sprouts, in a "butter" sauce-- almost an exact replica of the giant box featured during the Heimlich ride at Disneyland. It shouldn't come as a shock that we could barely choke down the first bite, nor that when we looked at my mom, who couldn't muster up the strength to taste the shapeless mass on her plate, she dumped them all down the disposal and went for the bag of frozen peas.
It's not surprising that so many in my generation didn't like the Brussel Sprout since this was our only introduction to it. In fact, what's shocking is that 15 years later I dared to pick up a package of fresh Brussel Sprouts and turn them in to a Thanksgiving side that we've enjoyed ever since. When it comes to Brussel Sprouts there is simply no comparison between fresh and frozen. And, for my children, the Brussel Sprout is one of their most oft requested vegetables, and thus one I am constantly experimenting with.
Here, the Brussels are complimented perfectly by salty panchetta and sweet dates. Fresh thyme adds an earthy umami flavor to the dish, and the roasted Sprouts hold their own against the tangy flavor of the balsamic reduction. You can taste both the roasted dates and their addition to the sauce, while still maintaining the sprout's integrity. Sweet, salty, tangy, earthy, crispy... what more can you ask for in a side dish?