this recipe for roasted brussels sprouts with bacon and figs was inspired by a care package i received from valley fig growers.
can’t stop, won’t stop, not when it comes to roasted brussels sprouts. this time, it’s roasted brussels sprouts with bacon and figs. it’s everything we love about roasted brussels sprouts, now with bacon and figs! (are you hearing that in a TV announcer voice? i hope so.)
seriously though, i’m a little bit obsessed with roasted brussels sprouts and i don’t mind admitting it. and it turns out that’s a good thing, given that it took me five tries to get this recipe for roasted brussels sprouts with bacon and figs just right (and by “just right”, i mean, better than borderline inedible, thank you version four).
people often ask me how many times i test recipes and this one is a good illustration of when i’m willing to stick it out (aka it’s not a dessert, since i hate to waste ingredients but eating mediocre things that are not healthy is also not my favorite).
anyway, i started off with an idea that roasted brussels sprouts + bacon + figs, with maybe some other flavors in there, would be good. and it was. it was just also a pile of brussels sprouts, bacon crumbles, and fig pieces. my notes from version one reference “a pile of bits”. so, promising, but definitely needing work.
version two added the step of simmering the figs in a bit of diluted white wine vinegar, a la one of my favorite salads of all time. better. still a pile of bits, but now with more flavor and a step in the right direction texture-wise. on to…
…version three, which brought us on a sharp detour into a cook’s illustrated recipe from which i intended to steal the cooking method and use my initial ingredients. cook’s illustrated promised magic from a skillet and five tablespoons of oil. now, granted, i freestyled it a bit so it’s unfair of me to say that the recipe wasn’t good. but the recipe wasn’t good.
not as un-good as my version four though. oh boy. so, you know how you can reduce balsamic vinegar to make your own balsamic glaze without paying $17 for a dropper size bottle? well, i had this idea that i would reduce the white wine vinegar in similar fashion.
and by, “in similar fashion”, i mean, “in complete ignorance of the fact that balsamic vinegar has a lot of sugar (aka can be reduced into something delicious) and white wine vinegar has basically no sugar (aka fills the kitchen with strong vinegar fumes for 45 minutes as it becomes steadily more potent but in no way more palatable)”.
so, yeah. version four taught me some lessons. like, always check the sugar content of the liquid you are planning to reduce. and, no matter what they tell you, cooking bacon in the oven *does* make a splattery mess. also, i have no idea how/when to use gelatin to thicken things. and finally, if google doesn’t have instructions on how to do the *exact* thing you want to attempt, it’s probably because it can’t be done.
(i’m willing to concede that this last one may not *always* be true, but i will bear it in mind as an invitation to pause and reconsider my plans, should i reach the end of google in the future.)
you may be wondering, “how did we leap from this vinegar-saturated mess to the version that you’re trying to convince me to spend time and money making in my own kitchen?” it’s a fair question. before we get there, i offer this reassurance: i asked my husband to try version five and he went back for repeated “test bites”. of a vegetable. friends, this is a big endorsement.
ok, so, version five. basically, i combined everything i had learned over the past few weeks, added something completely new, crossed my fingers, and it worked! it’s just like science, except wildly more uncontrolled in terms of inputs (because i change ALL of the variables) and wildly more unpredictable in terms of results (see related: changing ALL of the variables).
this whole time, i was trying to get the figs to be more jammy and saucy, but without adding a bunch of sugar, the easy and obvious way to jam-ify them. (i prefer my vegetables to not be able to be mistaken for desserts…)
while it took a minute for it to occur to me, luckily the second most obvious way to thicken something (um, “use a thickener”) worked! a tiny bit of arrowroot starch (or corn starch) and the thick, brussels sprouts-coating sauce i had been seeking appeared before my eyes, almost as if by magic!
finally, the integrated, comingled, non-pile-of-bits roasted brussels sprouts with bacon and figs i had been seeking! and in hardly more time than it takes to roast a basic batch of brussels sprouts. you know, assuming we ignore the past month of testing.
did you make this recipe? i’d love to know what you think of it! leave a comment below and share a picture on instagram with the hashtag #tastyseasons.
thank you to valley fig growers for the sweet care package that included sun-maid california calimyrna figs. thank you for supporting brands i love to use in my kitchen. all opinions in this (and every) post are my own.