This creamy, easy-to-make carbonara with salty bacon bits and lightly charred Brussels sprouts is an entree and side dish all in one.
Brussels Sprouts Carbonara is a dish Jimmy and I accidentally came up with on recent trip to the mountains. We knew the area had few restaurants or grocery shops and that we’d probably be cooking in an unfamiliar kitchen without our usual arsenal of kitchen tools. So we planned our meals and grocery list with a few considerations in mind:
- Bringing as few ingredients as possible
- Using those ingredients in a few different ways
- Not having to bring those ingredients home with us
- Minimal tools and equipment required to prep
The perfect solution? Carbonara.
Traditional carbonara is a luxurious dish made with lots of eggs, guanciale, and lots and lots of cheese. But our favorite quick carbonara recipe from Cooking Light uses simple ingredients and a splash of milk to help make the sauce creamy (sacrilegious, I know). The ingredient list is 90% breakfast foods: eggs, bacon, and milk. All we needed specific to the carbonara was the pasta. And all we needed specific to breakfast was some toast.
We also had some Brussels sprouts in our fridge that we knew would go bad while we were away, so we brought them with us. Plus, we recently fell in love with Bon Appetit’s Stir-Fried Brussels Sprouts, so we knew we’d have an easy side-dish.
So the first night, we cooked according to plan and made carbonara with a side of Stir-Fried Brussels Sprouts.
But on the second night, we got a little lazy. And Brussels Sprouts Carbonara was born.
We cored and separated the leaves of the Brussels sprouts, but then, instead of getting out a second pan to stir-fry them as a side dish, we tossed them in with the bacon fat. Then, when we added the chopped bacon back into the carbonara at the end, we dumped the lightly charred Brussels sprout leaves straight into the carbonara with it.
As much as I love regular carbonara, I think Brussels Sprouts Carbonara might be my favorite.
The slightly bitter, earthy leaves from the Brussels sprouts balance out the saltiness of the bacon and the richness of the sauce. They bring a nice pop of green color to an otherwise beige dish. And, if you time all your steps right, you can make it all in one pot (aside from the pasta pot), which is always a win in my book.
Coring and Peeling Brussels Sprouts
Coring and peeling your Brussels sprouts is the most tedious part of this dish. I use a paring knife to trim the bottom of each sprout, separating the leaves from the core, then I push the leaves outward from the bottom with my thumb and peel them off one by one. I keep trimming the base of the sprout shorter to release the leaves until I can’t peel and more leaves off.
You’ll want to make sure you do this before you start cooking (or while the bacon is cooking), just so you aren’t rushing yourself.
Don’t Scramble Your Eggs
The creaminess of a carbonara sauce comes from the richness of the egg yolks. As Bon Appetit explains:
The whites of the egg combine with the starch in the pasta water to add viscosity to the sauce while the yolk adds richness and flavor. Because egg yolks are a powerful emulsifier, they also help bind the fat from the pork to the sauce, creating a smooth, velvety texture without any separation.“Make Silky Carbonara—Not Scrambled Egg Pasta,” Bon Appetit
As with any recipe that requires adding hot liquid (in this case, pasta water) to an egg base, you have to be careful not to add the hot water too quickly or you’ll end up scrambling your eggs. You’ll want to whisk your egg mixture constantly while adding the pasta water, and add the pasta water slowly — in a very fine drizzle.
To hold your mixing bowl in place while both hands are in motion you can either place a folded dish towel under your bowl, or invest in a mixing bowl with a rubber bottom that will stay put as you mix.
Recommended Tools for Brussels Sprouts Carbonara
- Wire whisk for ALL. THE. WHISKING.
- Microplane for finely grated cheese that melts quickly
- Rubber bottom mixing bowl so your bowl doesn’t get away from you while you whisk & pour simultanously
Brussels Sprouts Carbonara
The slightly bitter, earthy leaves from the charred Brussels sprouts balance out the saltiness of the bacon and the richness of the sauce. Note: Because of the eggs in the sauce, this recipe does not reheat well. Only make as much as you plan to eat!
8-12 oz pasta of your choice
(Amount of pasta depends on how many servings you want)
3 strips of bacon (AND/OR cubed prosciutto or pancetta)
2 cups Brussels sprout leaves (approx 8-10 Brussels sprouts)
1 large egg
2 large egg yolks
1/2-3/4 cup finely grated parmesan (depends how cheesy you want it)
1/8 cup milk
1/4 cup pasta water
- Cook bacon in a large skillet over medium heat. Turn bacon a few times while cooking to get it evenly crisp and crunchy.
Remove bacon from pan and set aside on a paper towel.
- While bacon is cooking, peel and core your Brussels sprouts, discarding the cores and collecting the leaves in a bowl. Set aside.
- Increase skillet to medium-high and stir-fry Brussels sprouts leaves in bacon fat, tossing and stirring them gently until lightly charred and wilted, approximately 3-4 minutes.
Remove from skillet, place in a small bowl, set aside. Turn off the burner, but leave the skillet on the stove, you’ll need it again later.
- Bring a large pot of water to a boil over high heat. Cook pasta according to package directions.
- While pasta cooks, whisk together milk, eggs, salt, pepper, and parmesan cheese in a medium bowl, stirring with a whisk. Use a 1/4 cup measuring cup to scoop 1/4 cup of pasta water from the pasta pot. Slowly drizzle the pasta water into the bowl, whisking constantly. If your bowl is moving around a lot, put a dish towel under it to hold in place (or use a mixing bowl with a rubber bottom).
- When pasta has finished cooking, use tongs or a noodle ladle/pasta fork to lift pasta directly from the pot into the egg mixture, stirring constantly to coat the pasta.
- Chop bacon into small pieces and stir half of it into the pasta and egg mixture.
- Return skillet to low heat. Transfer pasta and egg mixture to bacon drippings. Cook 2-3 minutes, or until liquid begins to thicken, stirring constantly. Add stir-fried Brussels sprouts leaves, stir until evenly distributed.
- Distribute pasta evenly between bowls, sprinkle additional bacon on top. Optional: Grate some parmesan over the bowls as a finishing touch.