Brussels Sprouts With Pancetta…

I’ve never been a big fan of brussels sprouts. Cooked cabbage of any kind doesn’t do anything for me. The meal I dread the most is corned beef and cabbage (sorry to any of my readers that love CB&C) – I could just gag. But my husband loves brussels sprouts and has often asked me not only to eat them but also make them. I now can empathize a little more with my mother who was not a great cook. She had a limited palate and she refused to make anything she didn’t like. I get it now. It’s hard to get excited about making something you don’t like. But if you know me, you know I like a good challenge. Was there a brussels sprouts recipe out there that could actually get me to eat and enjoy them? I had my doubts.  And so my research began…

I looked at a wide variety of recipes and came across a couple of combinations that sounded interesting. One involved cranberries, feta cheese and nuts (and that will be a future blog) and one involved pancetta. Making brussels sprouts with pancetta is a little less involved so I thought I would try it. The results were quite interesting…

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Recipe Rating: A – I even had to admit that the results, for me, were very palatable and for my husband, who is a brussels sprouts lover, it was phenomenal. The combination of the pancetta, garlic and chicken stock infused the brussels sprouts with flavor. I actually made this recipe twice (as I had a lot of brussels sprouts and extra pancetta) and enjoyed it. Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t kid myself into thinking that brussels sprouts will now become my vegetable of choice, but at least I know there is a way to prepare them that I can live with and that brussels sprouts lovers truly enjoy!

IMG_1491Lesson Learned 1 – The difference between pancetta and bacon: Both pancetta and bacon are made from pork bellies. The difference is how they are prepared. Bacon is brined and smoked. Pancetta is seasoned with a lot of salt and pepper then rolled and wrapped in a casing to keep its shape. Pancetta is cured but not smoked. You can easily substitute bacon for pancetta in any recipe. I cut the pancetta into lardons just like I would bacon and added the brussels sprouts once the pancetta began to crisp. What I learned in making this recipe is, if you use pancetta, wait until the very end to add any salt to the sprouts. The nice thing about brussels sprouts is they highly absorb the flavors they are cooked with, and in this case they absorb the salt and pepper from the pancetta. I found it best to use unsalted chicken stock as well and to taste the sprouts at the very end to see if they needed any additional salt or pepper. I found that I needed very little salt at the end, much less than I would have added originally. So be careful. You can always add more salt, but you can’t take it away. You don’t want the brussels sprouts to be too salty.

IMG_1617Lesson Learned 2 – Boiling the sprouts before putting them in the skillet: You need to do this otherwise the sprouts will not cook all the way through in the time allotted for the recipe. I found putting them in boiling water and letting them cook for 5-7 minutes is the best way to get the desired end result. The remaining time they cook (approx. 25 minutes) in the skillet will then be sufficient to produce tender sprouts.  Also it is important to try to make the sprouts of equal size. If some of them are too big, cut them in half or in quarters. That way they will all cook evenly.

This recipe is easy to prepare and if can be enjoyed by someone who is not the biggest fan of brussels sprouts, imagine how good it will be for someone who loves them. I can now say that I have eaten brussels sprouts and enjoyed them – something I thought would never have come out of my mouth!

Brussels Sprouts With Pancetta…

  • Servings: 2
  • Difficulty: Easy
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1/2 pound fresh brussels sprouts, trimmed

2 Tbs. olive oil (I used garlic infused olive oil)

2-3 ounces of very thinly sliced pancetta cut into lardons

2 cloves garlic, minced

3/4 cup unsalted chicken stock


Start a pot of water boiling on the stove (do not add any salt to the water at this time). Once the water comes to a boil put in the brussels sprouts and cook for 5-7 minutes.  Drain the brussels sprouts and set aside.

Add olive oil to a hot pan. Add the pancetta and cook until the edges start to crisp. Add the garlic and cook for 30-60 seconds until the garlic becomes fragrant. Add the brussels sprouts to the pan and cook until they begin to brown. Turn them over and allow them to cook a little longer or until the second side begins to brown. Add the chicken stock, scrape any bits off the bottom of the pan and cook until the broth reduces to the point that it is just coating the sprouts. Serve immediately.





Baked Ziti With Sausage and Pancetta…

The weather is starting to turn. The temperatures are dropping and you can definitely feel Fall in the air. And for me Fall means cranking up the oven. I love grilling and I love dining al fresco but there is nothing like the smell of a pot roast slowing cooking in the oven. The aromas throughout the house make you want to curl up in front of the fire place with a glass of wine and just be glad you’re alive. I guess that’s why so many of these Fall dishes are called comfort food. They make you feel warm and cozy inside, even while they’re roasting away in the oven.

And this time of year I am also scrambling to figure out how to use my tomato crop. I never know from year to year how my tomato plants will fare but this year, due to the great growing conditions, I got a bumper crop. I was also fortunate this year. Just as the zucchini production began to wane the tomato production came into full force. And there are only so many salads you can make. So with all of these tomatoes I was on the hunt for a recipe that would not only warm the house but help me use a bunch of them. When I saw that this recipe called for 28 ounces of crushed tomatoes I thought to myself, heck – no need to buy a can, I can cut up what I have and that will do the trick. And did it ever. I got a delicious casserole and was able to use quite a few of my tomatoes in the bargain.


I will say I was a little surprised at how long it took to assemble this casserole. But I think the main reason was that I hand chopped all of the tomatoes and that took the bulk of the time. I was also able to use some of my remaining fresh basil so that was a plus. I substituted bacon for pancetta (our local grocery store was out of it) and that worked well too. So all in all, a flavorful recipe that helped me use some of my garden bounty. Here is my recipe rating and lessons learned:

Recipe Rating: A- Great comfort food recipe: This a such a good recipe on a variety of levels – not only does it taste great but being able to use garden tomatoes and basil was definitely a plus. If you don’t have the tomatoes or the time to chop them just use a 28 ounce can of crushed tomatoes. That will work equally as well and will be much quicker.

IMG_0383Lesson Learned 1- You can substitute bacon for pancetta: You probably know already that when you don’t have or can’t find pancetta you can use bacon as a substitute. But did you know the difference between them? Both are made from pork belly and both are cured for a length of time. The major difference is that bacon is smoked after it’s cured and pancetta is not. So using bacon as a substitute will add a slightly smokier flavor to the dish. Needless to say, I used bacon and it turned out great. And I will definitely try this using pancetta to see if can discern a noticeable difference.

Lesson Learned 2 – How to perfectly align the stovetop cooking time: I found that if you start out by boiling the water for the ziti and then start the other ingredients right after you put the ziti into boiling water you can align the cooking times of all the ingredients. Keep in mind that this means that all the chopping and non-cooking prep is done prior to this, but once that’s done both the non-pasta and pasta ingredients cook within a similar timeframe. That allows you to do the final casserole assembly easily.

IMG_0404Lesson Learned 3 – The fresher the ingredients the better: Granted this is the first time I tried this recipe but I think the garden fresh tomatoes and basil made the flavor superb. I realize that having garden tomatoes in most areas is a once a year treat. If you have to use canned tomatoes I would recommend San Marzano tomatoes as they are known for their sweet flavor. At least don’t substitute dried basil for fresh basil in this recipe. If you don’t have basil in your garden buy some fresh at the grocery store. It will make a difference.

Lesson Learned 4 – The wonder of queso mozzarella: In the grocery store with the ethnic cheeses I found something called queso mozzarella. Using it I found it gives a creamier texture to recipes calling for mozzarella cheese. What I do is blend half queso and half regular shredded mozzarella when recipes calls for mozzarella. I think it melts better. And keep in mind, any prepackaged shredded cheese has an ingredient in it that keeps the shredded cheese from sticking together. That same ingredient also prevents it from melting as thoroughly as freshly shredded cheese. So the queso mozzarella helps to combat that. It’s very soft and takes no time whatsoever to grate.

Ready to pour into the casserole...

Ready to pour into the casserole…

Lesson Learned 5 – Take the time to grate fresh parmesan: We all love the convenience of pre grated parmesan cheese. I’ve used it over and over again in recipes, that is until I discovered the difference between packaged and freshly grated parmesan cheese. Freshly grated parmesan melts better and is bolder in flavor. And it is very easy to do, especially if your have a mini-prep processor like I do. All you have to do is cut the parmesan into small pieces, put it in the mini-prep and process it until is is grated. If you haven’t  tried it you really should. It makes a noticeable difference.

Lesson Learned 6 – Using a garnish: Garnishes are just that, something that dresses up the look of a dish but not essential to the recipe. I love Italian parsley for this purpose. I grew Italian parsley in a container on my deck this summer and it grew like a weed. I loved being able to go and snip off a bunch when I needed to.  That way I could control the amount I had versus buying a big bunch at the grocery store and throwing half of it away. Italian parsley is great as a garnish. Simply chop a little and sprinkle it on top of a dish and voila, it looks like the work of a professional chef. Never underestimate the power of a garnish. It can make a dish look fancy with no effort at all!

Ready to pop into the oven...

Ready to pop into the oven…

If you’re like me and you like casseroles you will love this dish. It’s also reheats well and is great for leftovers. Warm your house up with this one. You won’t regret it!

Baked Ziti With Sausage and Pancetta

  • Servings: 6-8
  • Difficulty: Easy
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12 ounces of ziti pasta

4 ounces pancetta or bacon, diced

1 large onion, diced

2-3 cloves of garlic (to taste)

1 pound ground Italian sausage

1 cup dry red wine

1 can of diced tomatoes (28 ounces), or diced garden tomatoes

Generous handful of fresh basil (approx. 1/2 cup)

1/2 tsp. kosher salt

1/2 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes (optional)

1 cup ricotta cheese

1 cup mozzarella cheese, divided  (1/2 cup queso and 1/2 cup shredded preferred)

1/2 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese

1 Tbs. Italian seasoning

Italian parsley for garnish


Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Do all the prep work first: slice the bacon into lardons, chop the onion, mince the garlic, and grate the parmesan and mozzarella cheeses.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add the ziti and cook according to the package directions. Meanwhile in a large pan cook the pancetta for about 3 minutes (you don’t want to crisp it). Add the onion and sauté for an additional 3 minutes. Add the garlic and sauté until fragrant (30 seconds to 1 minute). Add the sausage and cook until the meat is no longer pink. Add the wine and cook for approximately 3 minutes. Use the wine to deglaze the pan.  Stir in the tomatoes and basil. Reduce the heat and cook for only a couple of minutes.

Drain the pasta and add it to the pan. Stir in the ricotta and half of mozzarella. Put into a 9×13 baking dish. Sprinkle the top with the remaining mozzarella and parmesan. Sprinkle Italian seasoning on top of the cheese.

Bake at 350 for 25 to 30 minutes or until the casserole is bubbly and the cheese is nicely browned.

Straight Out Of The Oven...

Straight Out Of The Oven…

Baked Ziti With Sausage and Pancetta

Baked Ziti With Sausage and Pancetta

Serving Suggestion: Baked Ziti with Garlic Bread...

Serving Suggestion: Baked Ziti with Garlic Bread…