Roasted Brussels sprouts with bacon jam and udon noodles

Bacon jam – homemade or store-bought – is the salty-sweet-tangy heart of this pasta dish.

Blue Kitchen
Bacon jam gives this Brussels sprouts and udon noodles dish a rich, savory flavor.

Last week was busy and exhausting, with a lot of long work hours and late nights. And then on Saturday, to celebrate, we helped someone move. So when Sunday rolled around, we decided to have a lazy zero-brainer day. The weather was too wet and chilly to walk along the lake, but we didn’t want to be cooped up in the house either.

We decided to drive out to LaGrange to stroll around and do some antiquing. While the only thing we acquired was one amazing and crazy vintage sweater, we did have a fantastic lunch at the Wild Monk, a comfortable spot that takes its food seriously.

Part of our meal was the Brussels sprouts dish that was part of the inspiration for this dish, first published here for years ago. But this time, sitting and eating the entire bowl in adoring silence before any of our other food had even arrived, we thought: what if this idea could be turned into an entrée?

Our server told us that the secret to the Wild Monk sprouts was bacon jam. That explained the salty, suave faintly sweet, faintly tangy tastes. As it turns out, there are lots and lots of bacon jam recipes on the internet. I went with very simple, but next time I may try something using dried apricots, for a fruity touch, or maple syrup or hot peppers, because outrageous. I used shallots because, to my shock, we did not have even one onion, but we had loads of shallots. Rather than using Parmesan, I went with the addition, just before serving, of a cool spoonful of ricotta, to bring a mild, creamy note.

One thing to note: this will imbue your clothing, hair, kitchen and probably your entire home with the aroma of bacon and onions. It just will, even if you are cooking this outdoors in a gale. If you prefer to purchase bacon jam (for instance, Stonewall Kitchen Maple Bacon Onion Jam or The Bacon Jams All Original Bacon Spread), we will not object.

You don’t need much bacon jam to make this recipe, which is great because you will find plenty of other uses for it – just for starters, to top burgers, to paint on a grilled cheese sandwich or dot on a pizza, to whisk into a vinaigrette or mayonnaise, to mix into meatloaf or a red sauce. You’re going to be inspired.

P.S. Illinois sports both a town named LaGrange – where we went on Sunday – and a town named La Grange, which is downstate.

Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Bacon Jam and Udon Noodles
Serves 4

1 pound bacon, cut crosswise into 1-inch slabs
1 tablespoon butter
salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 cups minced shallots
1/2 cup water
2 tablespoons light brown sugar
3 tablespoons  sherry vinegar
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 pound Brussels sprouts, washed, stems removed, cut in half
olive oil

12 ounces soba or udon noodles
1/4 cup ricotta cheese

1. Prepare the bacon jam. Sauté the bacon in a heavy-bodied skillet until it is crisp and golden – remove to a plate and drain on paper towels. Crush it into bits.

2. When all the bacon is cooked, discard all but two tablespoons of the bacon fat. Add the butter and pepper to the pan, then sauté the minced shallots until they start browning, about seven minutes or so. Add the water, brown sugar, sherry vinegar and the bacon to the pan – stir everything together and cook gently until it is a jammy texture. This will take about 12 to 15 minutes. One thing I found was that the whole thing would not become sufficiently jammy – after 15 minutes, it was still quite lumpy and un-jam-like. In the end, fearing that I would burn everything, I ran it through the food processor for about 30 seconds, then returned it to the pan for finishing. That totally did the trick. To finish, add the balsamic vinegar and stir.

3. Meanwhile, prepare the Brussels sprouts. They should go into the oven just before you start the last phase of the jam. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Put the sprouts on a baking pan (I used a hotel pan), coating them well with olive oil and sprinkling on a little salt. Slide into the oven and let them roast until they are nicely browned and tender, about 15 to 18 minutes. Turn off the oven. Gently toss the sprouts with a tablespoon of bacon jam, then return the baking sheet to the oven to let them sit in there while you prepare everything else.

4. Cook the udon or soba noodles. I find that, if you are using actual Japanese noodles, they cook a whole lot faster than the package claims, typically three or four minutes. Drain in hot water and toss with very good olive oil, a generous tablespoon of bacon jam and a bit of salt.

5. To plate, place a serving of the noodles on a plate or soup plate, then scatter on the Brussels sprouts. Add a dot of bacon jam as a handsome accent, then a soup spoon of ricotta cheese. Ready.

Related post on Blue Kitchen: Comfort food with a side of memory: Fresh Spinach and Bacon Quiche

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