Brussels Sprouts with Pancetta and Chestnuts
By Ann M. Evans
This makes a great fall or winter side dish, to go with roast pork or pork cutlets or as one of several vegetable sides that make a fall dinner, such as cubed roasted butternut squash with sautéed sage and bitter winter greens with Fuyu Persimmon and Pomegranate Seeds. Make your own pancetta as I do (recipe included) or buy it from your favorite butcher. The secret to this recipe is good fatty pancetta (or bacon) so that you have enough fat to coat the Brussels sprouts. The chestnuts can be purchased peeled and cooked, or, roasted and peeled at home (recipe included.)
1 stalk Brussels sprouts, or about 2 pounds
2 slices of pancetta, cubed, or about ½ cup cubed pancetta – ¼ inch by ¼ inch (or ¼ pound bacon, cut into small pieces)
½ pound peeled and cooked chestnuts
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
To cook the Brussels sprouts, bring about 2 inches of water to boil over high heat in a steamer. As water boils, remove sprouts from stalk, and wash, removing the bottom stem and a few outer leaves as needed (if yellow or tough.) Cut them in half. Place sprouts in the steamer over the boiling water and cook about 5-7 minutes, or until sprouts can be pierced with the point of a knife. Do not overcook. When done, immediately rinse under cold water to stop the cooking process.
Heat a large frying pan with straight sides over high heat. When hot, add the pancetta or bacon and lower heat to medium-low. Stirring to avoid any burning, sauté the pancetta so that it renders all its fat and is crisp, about 15 minutes.
Add the sprouts and stir to coat them with the fat of the pancetta. Reduce heat to low. Add the chestnuts. Add salt and pepper to taste. Cover with a lid. Simmer until chestnuts are warm and the flavors have melded together, about 10 minutes.
Baking Chestnuts in the Oven
1/2 pound chestnuts
Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Using a sharp serrated bread knife, slice each chestnut across the rounded top, cutting all the way through the shell.
Place the chestnuts in a small saucepan and bring the water to a simmer over high heat. Remove the chestnuts from the water and place on a baking tray.
Place the tray in the oven and roast them for 15 minutes, or until the shells begin to peel back where you cut into them. Remove the tray from the oven. Place the chestnuts into a bowl and cover them with a cloth for 15 minutes.
Pull the outer brown shell and inner brown skin off. If the chestnut is gooey or falls apart, discard.
From The Davis Farmers Market Cookbook, by Georgeanne Brennan and Ann M. Evans, 2012
Traditionally, farm families have prepared sausage, ham, bacon, and other pork products in the winter when it’s cold out and the meat won’t spoil. Many families make a two-day party of it to get all parts of the pig processed and preserved for the coming year. Georgeanne has made pancetta for years, but I learned the art only recently. My teacher was our good friend Jamie Buffington, who works with us on Slow Food Yolo. John Bledsoe and his son, who sell pork, pork belly, and all parts pork, including fatback, trotters, heads, and jowls, as well as lamb, at the market, provided the pork belly, which can be purchased by special order. When hogs are butchered, the whole bellies are split in half lengthwise; you are using just half for this recipe, though the cut is often labeled “whole pork belly” in meat markets. Pancetta creates extra layers of flavor in any dish to which it is added. I don’t use pink salt (sodium nitrate) or any other preservative in my recipe. You can make your own decision, as pink salt is easy to find in the supermarket.
1 pork belly with skin intact, about 10 pounds
7 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1/2 cup sea or kosher salt
1/2 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
4 bay leaves, crushed
3 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary
2 tablespoons freshly coarse-ground black pepper, plus 2 to 4 tablespoons freshly cracked
1 tablespoon chopped fresh sage
1 tablespoon fennel and/or coriander seeds, crushed
1 tablespoon juniper berries, crushed
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
1/4 cup Spice Mixture
3 star anise pods
3 broken cinnamon sticks
3 tablespoons cumin seeds
3 teaspoons whole cloves
3 teaspoons ground coriander
1 cup kosher or sea salt
2/3 cup sugar
Grind anise, cinnamon, cumin, and cloves together in a spice grinder. Add remaining ingredients. Keep what is left over in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 6 months for use in your next pancetta.
Lay the pork belly flat skin and fat side up, meat side down; it should be about 10 pounds and will make 2 pancettas, about 9-10 inches long. Using the tip of a sharp knife cut the skin off of the slab, pulling it back with your free hand as you cut. Trim the edges to even the belly into a rectangle. Cut it in half crosswise; even out each slab by trimming the edges. Each piece will be about an 8x10x1 inch slab of fat and meat.
In a bowl, stir together the garlic, salt, brown sugar, bay leaves, rosemary, 2 tablespoons coarse-ground pepper, sage, fennel and/or coriander, juniper berries, granulated sugar, and the ground mixed spices, mixing well. Rub the belly slabs on both sides with the seasoning mix, covering them completely and evenly. Put each slab in a resealable plastic bag and seal each bag closed, forcing out the air. Place the bags flat in the refrigerator and top each bag with a weight. I use a couple of cookbooks for weights.
Turn the slabs every day for 7 days. The slab will become very wet. The fat will become hard.
Remove the slabs from the bags, rinse off the cure, and pat the slabs dry. Place on a tray, fat side down, meat side up. You want the fat to be on the outside as you roll your slab. Rub the meat side of each slab with the cracked peppercorns, using the larger amount if you like your pancetta peppery.
Starting at the end closest to you, roll up the slab tightly, with no air pockets. Tie the wrapped roll tightly with cotton string, tying twice around the length to create a cross on top. Then creating a netting with butchers’ knots or macramé – or just tie any knot you know how to do, securing the pancetta along its length at 1/2 to 1-inch intervals. The tighter the netting and more evenly spaced the knots, the better the roll will dry. Repeat with the second slab.
Loop a 3 foot length of string through each pancetta at the cross on one end, then tie the string securely over a rack in the refrigerator so that there is enough space to hang each role. This may require removing a shelf. Hang the wrapped rolls from a shelf in the refrigerator so that air circulates freely around them and leave them until the meat is firm and dry, 2 to 3 weeks.
When the pancetta is ready, reserve about one-third in the refrigerator to use. It will keep for up to 6 weeks. Put the other two-thirds in resealable plastic bags and seal closed, forcing out the air. Freeze for up to 6 months.
Makes two 5-pound rolls