Sometimes, no matter how hard you try, you just can't make something work, even when it seems like you are poised for success. Such was the case with tonight's dinner, a pasta dish that I selected based on what I believed to be the foolproof triad of bacon (which makes everything better), Brussels sprouts (a vegetable of which I am growing increasingly fond), and dried cranberries (which are surprisingly delicious in pasta, just try them in a basil cream sauce with chicken and fettuccine if you don't believe me.) I really couldn't fathom how that combination of ingredients could possibly go wrong, so I selected it as a relatively simple weeknight meal.
Somewhere along the line, however, my foolproof meal turned into a flop. After following the directions in the recipe, the Brussels sprouts turned out completely overcooked -- soggy and bitter. No amount of crispy bacon, sweet-tart nuggets of dried fruit, or savory sauce was going to fix this nightmare. After all, it was generations of miserable, cooked-to-death Brussels sprouts that gave them their maligned status today, and when the usually tender, savory sprouts are cooked within an inch of their lives, they pretty much deserve all that bad press.
Usually, Justin and I playfully argue over who will get to take an evening's leftovers for lunch the next day if there isn't enough for both of us, but not tonight. Both of us tried to persuade the other to take them, in the guise of doing them a favor, but we both knew nobody wanted to eat this dish again.
I'm not sure I'd be willing to give this another try. I do believe in this flavor combination, and perhaps if the sprouts were properly cooked, this would still have the potential to be delicious. After this failure, however, I'm almost to traumatized to try it. I've adjusted the recipe to reflect the changes I would try next time, if there is a next time...
Pasta with Brussels Sprouts, Cranberries, and Caramelized Onions
adapted from Serious Eats
4 oz. bacon, sliced into 1/4 inch strips
12 oz. Brussels sprouts, halved and trimmed
1 medium onion, sliced
1 1/4 c. chicken broth
1/2 c. dried cranberries, chopped
6 oz. fettuccine or spaghetti
2 oz. Parmesan cheese
1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. While that warms up, toss the bacon into a large skillet set over medium heat. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the bacon has rendered some of its fat and is crisp, five to seven minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon, and drain on paper towels.
2. Turn the heat to medium-high, and add the Brussels sprouts cut-side down. Cook, making sure not to stir them, until they are browned, about two minutes. Add the onion slices, stir, and cook until the onions are translucent, about four minutes.
3. Pour in the broth, vermouth, and dried cranberries. Stir well. Cover the skillet, reduce heat to medium, and cook until the sprouts are very tender, about 5 minutes.
4. Meanwhile, cook the pasta according to the directions on the packaging, minus a minute or two. When done, reserve 1/4 cup of the cooking liquid, and drain the pasta in a colander. Then toss the pasta into the skillet along with the pasta water. Turn heat to medium-high, and cook, stirring constantly, until the pasta is well coated and the liquid has evaporated, one to two minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve with grated Parmesan and the cooked bacon.