The Beleaguered Brussels Sprout

“Green balls of death.” That is how a friend (a nutritionist even!) used to refer to Brussels sprouts. Unfortunately, not a terribly uncommon reference. So many people I know hold this poor, unassuming vegetable in disregard. “Mushy,” “mealy” “bitter” and “pungent”– these are a few of the descriptors used by the skeptics among us. And I can relate.

My first experience with these miniature, cabbage-like orbs was, well, not great. They were soft and acidic and the palest of green – not an attractive sage green but one tending more toward the brownish pea green that graced my elementary school lockers.

Then I was presented with an entirely different animal. The roasted Brussels sprout. The leaves singed to a deep brown and crisped to perfection, they had a sweet taste and a dense bite. I started experimenting at home and, with the addition of fresh lemon zest and a sprinkling of grated parmesan cheese, Brussels sprouts soon became standard fare on my dinner table.

A quick note on their etymology. In my recent post I was unable to confirm with confidence the origin of the name Jerusalem artichoke (aside from the fact that they have nothing to do with Jerusalem). I am happy to report that, with the Brussels sprout, there seems to be no such confusion. They are, in fact, named for Brussels – the capital of Belgium. Nice to finally have a bit of historical certainty!

They are an excellent source of vitamin C – containing a hefty 161% of the Recommended Daily Allowance. They are also full of a number of vitamins and loaded with fiber. And they contain plant phytonutriets that enhance the body’s natural defense system and there is a growing body of evidence pointing toward the Brussels sprout as a potent cancer prevention food.

When purchasing them, look for the smaller, more tightly wound ones. If you can get them on the stalk – all the better. I hunted for a stalk bursting with sprouts but it’s too late in the season to find such a treasure. Considering they are in their prime earlier in the winter, I was lucky enough to chance upon a bucket full of them at the farmer’s market.

I’m providing a few simple recipes to entice the sprout cynics out there. I hope some of you give these vegetables another try before they disappear from the markets for the season.

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Roasted Brussels Sprouts

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 pounds Brussels sprouts
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Instructions

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

Cut off the brown ends of the Brussels sprouts and pull off any yellow outer leaves. Mix them in a bowl with the olive oil, salt and pepper. Pour them on a sheet pan and roast for 30 to 35 minutes, until crisp on the outside and tender on the inside. Shake the pan from time to time to brown the sprouts evenly. Sprinkle with more kosher salt and serve immediately.

Note: Brussels sprouts pair beautifully with rosemary – so if you have some laying about or growing outside, toss it into the bowl with the olive oil and sprouts before roasting. Divine.

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Pasta with Shaved Brussels Sprouts

Ingredients

  • 1 pound Brussels sprouts
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 3 small leeks, thinly sliced
  • 1 medium shallot, thinly sliced
  • 3 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
  • 3 tablespoons pine nuts, toasted, divided
  • Juice and zest of one large lemon
  • 1 pound fresh pasta
  • 2 tablespoons freshly grated parmesan cheese

Instructions

Cut off the brown ends of the Brussels sprouts and pull off any yellow outer leaves. Cut a thin slice off of one side and then, placing that side facing down, thinly slice the remainder of the sprout.

Thinly slice the white and light green parts of the leeks. Thinly slice the shallot and garlic. Zest your lemon, preserving zest in a small bowl covered with a moistened paper towel.

Heat the olive oil in large pot over medium heat. Add shallots and leeks; sauté until almost translucent, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and stir for a few minutes.

Add Brussels sprouts; increase heat to medium-high and sauté until tender, about 6-7 minutes, stirring frequently. Remove from heat and stir in 2 tablespoons pine nuts and lemon juice. Season with salt and pepper.

While Brussels sprouts are cooking, prepare pasta according to instructions. I highly recommend fresh pasta. I like to pair this version of Brussels sprouts with a lemon & pepper linguine sold at my local farmer’s market – but any fresh pasta will do.

When pasta is done, drain and reserve about ¼ cup of the liquid. Toss the pasta in the pan with the Brussels sprouts and drizzle hot “pasta liquid” over the top to moisten.

Transfer to bowl. Sprinkle with remaining 1 tablespoon pine nuts, parmesan and lemon zest and serve.

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