Love and Olive Oil

Spaghetti with Pancetta and Brussels Sprouts

Sometimes, you just have to use up what’s in the fridge. Call it guilt, not wanting to let perfectly good produce go to waste, or call it thrift, since we paid for that food, may as well use it. Whatever the motivator, the mis-matched, partially used, and almost forgotten bits and pieces must come out of the fridge eventually. Our solution is usually just to throw them all in a pasta. Which sometimes, doesn’t go so well. You end up with a bland or just plain sorry excuse for a dinner.

But other times, this improvised leftover dish turns out to be simply delicious. I’d go so far as to say it is one of the best things we’ve made (for dinner) in weeks. And something we will intentionally purchase the ingredients to make again. Success. Our clear-out-the-fridge game show meal has now become a weeknight staple.

Brussels sprouts get a bad wrap. And sure, they can be bitter if cooked incorrectly (then again, chocolate can be bitter too, so what does that say about Brussels sprouts?) The trick to this dish, and keeping it’s quick-cooking time in tact is the shred. Think of the sprout as a mini cabbage. Just thinly slice it crosswise much like you would a whole head of cabbage. What you end up with are nutty ribbons of Brussels sprout bliss. Yes, I just used Brussels sprouts and bliss in the same sentence. And I meant it, too.

Sometimes the best pasta dishes are those that don’t really have a sauce. There is no congealed, curdled, or creamy concoction coating the noodles… there is simply no need for it. Rather, the ingredients co-mingle with the spaghetti, playing off the pancetta and the nuttiness of the Brussel sprouts with the just barely cooked cherry tomatoes. Needless to say, there is no lack of flavor here.

Sauce is so overrated.

Spaghetti with Pancetta and Brussels Sprouts

Makes 4-6 servings.

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16 oz. spaghetti
2 oz pancetta, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1 onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
about 1 dozen Brussels sprouts, shredded (about 2 cups)
1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
salt and pepper
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese


Bring a large pot of water to boil. Cook spaghetti until al dente according to package instructions.

Meanwhile, preheat a large saucepan over medium heat. Add pancetta, and a dash of olive oil if your pancetta is particularly lean. Cook until just starting to brown.

Add garlic and onion and cook until fragrant, about 3 minutes.

Add Brussels sprouts to pan and cook until tender and slightly translucent, about 5 minutes. Add tomatoes and quickly saute until just softened. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Drain spaghetti, reserving 1 cup of the pasta water. Add noodles to Brussels sprout mixture. Toss until coated, adding pasta water a bit at a time if necessary. Divide onto plates. Top with Parmesan cheese and serve.

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  1. just made this recipe for my family and we LOVED it!! hands down one of the best things ive ever made.
    i used whole wheat pasta which added yet another nutty flavor which really worked in this dish. the three of us ate the entire thing. definitely making again!

  2. I actually call these kind of dinners “round the fridge and pantry”, and love the freedom of cooking with whatever falls in my hands. Looking at this dish, will definitely have to try it, although will probably put my own spin on it.

  3. Sauce is most definitely overrated. I have never shredded brussels sprouts before. That is so interesting. I am really going to steal your idea. Love it. Brussels sprouts are seriously one of my favorite foods.

  4. Wow what a lovely way to use up brussel sprouts! But I actually like that stuff, roasted with garlic butter. ,MMMM…So I think it’ll just make me love this pasta dish even more!

  5. we’ve had a lot of fridge cleaning meals lately – and a lot of successes. I love that! Your pasta looks delish!

  6. Love this recipe looks amazing wanna try it

  7. I love when the “clean out the fridge” meal actually turns out to be a hit! There have been plenty of so-so dishes of that variety in my kitchen. I enjoy Brussels sprouts, but have never tried shredding them. Thanks for that idea!

  8. I love it when one pot dinners come out like this!

  9. Shredding brussels sprouts is a brilliant way to recreate them. Seems they lend themselves to pasta or risotto so much better that way!

    I’m thinking the pancetta pulls a lot of flavor into this dish… but I’m thinking a few flavorful oil cured olives might also do the trick. Might have to try that…

  10. love the B sprouts and combo with pasta. I don’t know why they get such a bad rap. I think young, unsuspecting children were fed plain cooked b sprouts at a young age and, of course, didn’t like it – just like little kids don’t like dark chocolate either..and in turn developed a fear. Exposure therapy by way of your pasta is needed!

  11. I love your comparison of brussels sprouts to chocolate… both fantastic! And I’m wondering the same thing as Jen R. — how would it turn out without the pancetta?

  12. I bet this is pretty good. I love broccoli or swiss chard in pasta. The way you’ve chiffinaded the sprouts would make the flavor less intense to blend more with the pasta. Looks good!

  13. This looks wonderful. I wonder if it would be as great without the pancetta.

  14. Fabulous. I like sauce-less pizza, too.

  15. Yum! I have been meaning to make a pasta with Brussels sprouts since I had this amazing Gnocchi with Brussels at one of Daniel Bouluds restaurants.

  16. I love Brussels sprouts! They’re only bad when they are not prepared correctly, but that’s true of many vegetables.

    I came up with a pasta dish that used up a just this side of wilted head of cauliflower and it’s become a family favorite. I think not being willing to waste good food forces you to be a more creative cook.

  17. The one noodle my boyfriend and I have yet to try with our new pasta maker is spaghetti, and that’s on the bill for this week. Thanks for giving me some ideas of what we can serve with it!

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