March 8, 2018

Brussels Sprouts Gratin

I've been posting a lot of recipes lately about quick dinners, fancy dinners, and everything in between. I've noticed, however, that it's typically not enough to write about just the main part of the meal to have, well, a complete meal. The key to elevating even the fastest, simplest dinner recipe is adding the right accompaniments to round it out. Yes, some recipes have the side built right in (I'm looking at you, chicken and mushroom skillet), but more often than not you're left searching for more recipes or just resorting to a simple starch. Although I'm always up for some good roasted potatoes, I recognize that a more flavorful veggie is often welcome. Enter these brussels sprouts.

My sister threatens to run away whenever my mom roasts off any sort of brassicas (that's brussels sprouts, cabbage, broccoli, etc. for you non-horticulturalists out there) because the smell is so strong. However, there's something about bacon, cheese, and toasty breadcrumbs that changes one's perspective on the matter. Smothering the brussels sprouts in cheese is a parental hack that has stood the test of time, and this takes it to another level.

Bacon should always be the first step. Not only does it provide flavor-packed fat that serves as a base for the rest of the dish, but you now have something to snack on while you finish cooking. The garlic and shallots are sauteed in the bacon fat, which is then used to form a roux and ultimately the cheese sauce. The key to a smooth sauce is adding the warm milk slowly and whisking constantly; you'll form a thick paste that gradually thins out with no lumps. From there, you whisk in all the cheese. I went with gruyere for a fancy gratin feel, but this is a cheesy veggie dish at heart so any good melting cheese will do, even reliable old processed American cheese. Be warned, you'll have an entirely different flavor profile and appearance even if the texture turns out well, so I'd still recommend something along the lines of a good gruyere for a nice dinner. A pinch of nutmeg rounds out the flavor (well, maybe not for an American cheese version), and adding the bacon back to the sauce instead of later on ensures an even dispersal.

I've seen similar recipes with whole brussels sprouts, shredded brussels sprouts, and everything in between. Here, I went with quartered ones so that you still have some texture but they cook through without burning the top or the edges. Instead of topping them with regular breadcrumbs, I toss crispy panko with parmesan and butter for an extra punch of salty, cheesy flavor; adding the butter here allows for the panko to absorb the fat and brown more evenly. The gratin gets popped in the oven for about half an hour, depending on the pan size/casserole thickness, until the brussels sprouts are tender, the cheese is hot and bubbly, and the panko is nicely browned. It's sure to elevate your dinner and make sure you get all your veggies for the day in, plus it makes great leftovers.

2 lbs Brussels Sprouts
4-6 Strips Bacon
1 T Butter
2 T Butter, Melted
2 Cloves Garlic, Minced
1 Shallot, Minced
3 T Flour
1 Cup Half and Half
1/2 Cup Milk
Pinch Nutmeg
3 oz (1 Cup) Shredded Gruyere
2/3 Cup Panko
1/3 Cup Parmesan

Trim and quarter the Brussels sprouts.

Heat oven to 375F and grease a 9x13" (2 quart) baking dish.

Cook the bacon in a large skillet until crispy. Remove and chop, leaving 2-3T fat in the pan.

Add 1 T butter to the bacon fat. Add the garlic and shallot and cook for 2 minutes or until fragrant. Add the flour and whisk for 1 minute or until thickened. Slowly whisk in the half and half and the milk. Season with salt, pepper, and a pinch of nutmeg. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Remove from heat and whisk in the gruyere and bacon.

Toss the Brussels sprouts in the sauce and spread into the prepared pan. Combine the panko, parmesan, and melted butter. Sprinkle onto the Brussels sprouts. Bake for 25 minutes or until tender, covering with foil to prevent over browning as necessary.

Serves 8

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