Happy Tuesday! Today I took on the much maligned yet surprisingly versatile Brussels Sprout. These tiny cabbage looking (and related!) dudes are great tasting, if prepared correctly, and chock full of essential nutrients, like Vitamin A, folic acid, dietary fiber, and Vitamin C – yay, no scurvy! Best of all, they have a compound in them that can repair DNA and inhibit cancer growth. That’s pretty sweet. Now upon doing a little scientific research on Brussels sprouts, I found that they are pretty popular in the USA but like, 85% of the market is dominated by frozen sprouts. That points to one possible conclusion: the vast majority of Brussels sprouts being consumed here are being prepared by boiling or straight steaming. Look, that’s fine if you like the flavor, but it doesn’t do a whole lot for this particular veggie. They are naturally quite bitter and tough, and really need a little bit of further preparation in order to balance that particular flavor profile. Same goes for something like asparagus. So until food scientists reach their goal of modifying Brussels sprouts to be “naturally” less bitter (which is sort of creepy), I am going to share a couple of recipes that take care of it through cooking!
Sauteed Brussels Sprouts with Pancetta
This recipe relies on a little bit of pork fat and a lot of searing to do the trick. My dad is obsessed with Brussels sprouts prepared this way. It’s kind of crazy. Anyway, the idea is to get a good bit of caramelization on the cut sides of the sprouts, rather than trying to cook them whole, which due to their size and shape can really be difficult without boiling. I like my sprouts to still have a pretty good deal of bite – no mushy punishment food here. The other step is to put a lid on your pan and let them gently steam to cook the insides after you’ve gotten the outer flavor taken care of. Not difficult, and surprisingly quick. Here’s the recipe:
10 -12 Brussels Sprouts, ends trimmed and halved lengthwise
1/4 C cubed pancetta or bacon
1/2 T Olive Oil
Salt & Pepper, to taste
In a large nonstick pan with a lid that fits, heat the pancetta pieces. Cook them until most of the fat is rendered, then remove to a plate. Add the pieces of Brussels sprouts, cut side down, and let cook 1-2 minutes or until caramelized. Toss the sprouts around for a second, then put the lid on. Reduce heat to medium low and let steam for about 3-4 minutes. If you need to add a teaspoon of water to induce steaming, you can do so. Check sprouts: the only real way to do it is to taste. If they are soft enough for you, remove from heat. Otherwise, let steam a while longer, until you are satisfied. Remove from heat, toss with pancetta, salt and pepper, and serve.
Shaved Brussels Sprout Salad with Hazelnuts, Pecorino, and Truffle
This recipe is inspired by a starter at the fantastic Houston restaurant Dolce Vita. I remember theirs has Pecorino, a salty, hard Italian cheese, but not much else. So I did my own twist. Brussels Sprouts are surprisingly easy to slice thinly, and when you do, they take on a really nice flavor. Sort of like an endive-y flavor. Plus, it looks lovely and delicate. Now, I used a serrated mandoline like this one:
You could also use a food processor or just your knife, if you feel confident in your knife skills. I also chose hazelnuts – I could have used walnuts, pine nuts, almonds, whatever. You pick. Or leave out the nuts. Whatever. Truffle salt can be substituted truffle oil. Or real shaved truffle, moneybags! Ok.
7-8 Brussels Sprouts, ends trimmed
3/4 C shredded or grated Pecorino Cheese
1/4 C hazelnuts, finely chopped & toasted
1/2 lemon, zested and juiced
Shave your brussels sprouts as finely as you choose. In a bowl, combine with cheese, hazelnuts, lemon zest and juice, and 2 T olive oil to start. Toss gently. Add olive if need be. Sprinkle with truffle salt – be very careful, as a little bit goes a long way. If you feel you have enough truffle but not enough salt, add regular kosher salt or sea salt. Add pepper. Let it sit for about 3o minutes – the flavors mingle together better this way. Serve at room temperature.
Serves 4-6 (assuming serving size is about 1/2 C each.)