An Homage to Brussels Sprouts

February 15, 2009

There is no love sincerer than the love of food.
~George Bernard Shaw

For all the carping, bitching and moaning about this much maligned vegetable, Brussels sprouts deserve our utmost respect and gratitude. Not only are they downright delectable, Brussels sprouts are one of those exceedingly healthy foods. A top tier vegetable in my book—and I am talking food, not medicine.

Brussels sprouts were named after Brussels (Bruxelles), the capital of Belgium where they were allegedly first cultivated, one of the few vegetables to have originated in northern Europe. French settlers who settled in Louisiana introduced them to America. Merci to another French culinary import.

Brussels sprouts look like perfect miniature versions of cabbage since they are closely related, both belonging to the cruciferous family. Available year round, they are at their best from autumn through early spring which is the peak of growing season.

Brussels sprouts grow in bunches of 20 to 40 on the stem of a plant that grows from two to three feet tall. Choose firm compact sprouts that are bright green in color. Hopefully, you are fortunate enough to have a neighborhood grocer that carries them still on the stem.

If the sprouts have already been removed from the stem when purchased, cut a very thin slice off the bottom to expose a fresh surface. Some cut a shallow crosshatch on the bottom as well. Remove all discolored and wilted outer leaves. Cooking time varies depending on size, but please do not overcook, so you can savor their al dente texture.

The health benefits of brussels sprouts are manifold. They contain significant amounts of the antioxidants vitamin C and beta-carotene (vitamin A), and nitrogen compounds called indoles which may reduce the risk of certain cancers. Brussels sprouts are also a good source of vegetable protein. Scientists have found that sulforaphane, found in Brussels sprouts, boosts the body’s detoxification enzymes which helps to clear potentially carcinogenic substances more rapidly.

A perfect dish for those obsessed by somatic concerns.

So, below are three huzzahs to brussels sprouts.

ROASTED BRUSSELS SPROUTS WITH PANCETTA

3 T olive oil
1/2 lb sliced pancetta, diced
4 shallots, thinly sliced
1 1/2 lbs brussels sprouts, trimmed and halved
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
2 T unsalted butter

Preheat oven to 425.

Heat oil over medium heat in a roasting pan or heavy large skillet. Add the pancetta and cook until golden brown and crisp. Remove the pancetta to a plate lined with paper towels to drain. Add the shallots to the pan and cook until soft—sweat them. Add the Brussels sprouts and toss to combine. Season with salt and pepper and roast in the oven until the sprouts are cooked through and light golden, a little caramelized, about 35 minutes. Remove the sprouts from the oven and stir in the butter. Transfer to a platter and toss with the reserved pancetta.

BRUSSELS SPROUTS WITH CURRANTS

1 1/2 lbs brussels sprouts, trimmed
1 C black currants
2 T unsalted butter
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

Place currants in warm water for 10 minutes or so, until they plump; drain through a sieve. Bring water to a rapid boil in a large pot, add brussels sprouts, and quickly return the water to a boil. Cook until just tender, then drain. Toss with plumped currants and butter.

For an even healthier version, use a steamer.

SHAVED BRUSSELS SPROUTS AND SHALLOTS

1 1/2 lbs brussels sprouts, trimmed

2 T unsalted butter
3 T olive oil
4 cipollini onions (bulbs), peeled and thinly sliced
4 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and thinly sliced
4 T pine nuts, toasted

Slice brussels sprouts with a knife or by using the slicing disk of a food processor.

Melt butter with olive oil in a heavy large skillet over medium heat. Add shallots; sauté until almost translucent, about 3 minutes. Add garlic; stir 1 minute. Add brussels sprouts and increase heat to medium high and sauté until tender, about 8 minutes. Season with salt and pepper, toss with pine nuts and serve.

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