Behold the lowly Brussels sprout. Spinach may very well have been the subject to more widespread abuse over the years (here in North America, at least), but no one to my knowledge ever created a comic strip about a follically-challenged, squinty-eyed, pipe-smoking, tattooed sailor with a taste for long-legged women who develops superhuman strength every time he eats a helping of Brusssels sprouts. For our part, neither of us have ever understood the widespread aversion to Brussels sprouts. We both had vegetables that filled us with dread when we were youngsters, but we can only remember one each (his: zucchini; hers: green bell peppers), and Brussels sprouts were not among these offenders. I've never heard people go off on tirades about the equally lowly cabbage--miniaturize it, however, and suddenly it's capable of striking fear into the hearts of young and old alike.
Around here, among all the other reasons to be excited about the fall harvest season, those massive bunches of Brussels sprouts on the stalk are near the top of our list. It's not just that they have an absurdly Dr. Seussian appearance to them; it's also because they tend to be fresher and better tasting, with plenty of that earthy, almost nutty flavor that distinguishes them when they're in their prime. Our standard preparation is braised with wine, garlic, olive oil, a bit of balsamic vinegar, and some toasted pine nuts, but recently we've tested out some new Brussels sprouts recipes, both of which have wide applications.
#1 is a pasta and Brussels sprouts combo that comes from Alice Waters' Chez Panisse Vegetables, one that Michelle found herself attracted to in large part because the recipe noted that orecchiette would make an ideal accompaniment due to its similarity in size and shape to the Brussels sprout's leaf. We'd learned to make orecchiette when we took our Pasta 1 course at Mezza-Luna earlier this year, and Michelle was eager to practice making them again, but she also liked the poetry of mimicking the shape of the leaf with the shape of the pasta.
Brussels Sprouts with Orecchiette
1 lb Brussels sprouts, stems removed and separated into leaves
1 red onion, thinly sliced
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 pinch hot red pepper flakes
1/2 lemon, pits removed
bread crumbs (optional)
1 lb orecchiette, fresh or dried
If using dried pasta, bring your water to a boil and begin cooking your pasta. If using fresh pasta, like we did, bring your water to a boil, but you can wait to cook the pasta at the very last minute, because it only takes about one minute to cook.
Heat a sauté pan, add a little olive oil, toss in the sprout leaves, add salt and freshly ground black pepper, and sauté for about one minute over high heat. Add the onions and the red pepper flakes, and continue to sauté until the sprouts are tender and a little browned, 2-5 minutes. Remove from the heat, add the garlic, and toss. If the garlic appears to be browning, add a splash of water to the pan. Squeeze a little lemon onto the sprouts, and when the pasta is done, add it, drained, to the sauté pan and toss everything together. Taste and adjust the seasoning. Serve drizzled with good extra-virgin olive oil. If you want, toss the pasta with some toasted bread crumbs, but if the sprouts are very sweet and tasty [they were], don't bother [we didn't].
Serves two as a main, four as a side.
Rustic yet delicate, and tremendously flavorful (that squeeze of lemon being the crowning touch), Waters' Orecchiettte with Brussels Sprouts went perfectly with our fresh tomato and mozzarella appetizer, a Caesar Salad, and a hearty red wine.
#2 is testament to our ongoing infatuation with the cuisine of David Chang. Not only does Mr. Chang share our affection for Montreal (we have it on good authority that he was up here "all summer long" enjoying Montreal's laid-back appeal), but he obviously shares our affection for Brussels sprouts because he's regularly made good use of them at both Momofuku and Momofuku Ssäm Bar over the last couple of years, and when featured in newspaper and magazine articles, as he often has been, he's tended to include a Brussels sprouts recipe. Thus, Gourmet's recent 2007 Restaurant Issue included Chang's Roasted Brussels Sprouts (tossed with Asian dressing and a devilish puffed rice/shichimi togarashi mix) in its well-deserved feature on him, but the recipe we turned to this week was one that showed up in the April 12, 2006 issue of The New York Times, one that perversely combines Brussels sprouts with cabbage (in the form of kimchi), and one that had been on the AEB hitlist ever since.
Brussels Sprouts with Kimchi
1 lb Brussels sprouts, cut in half from top to bottom
1/4 lb bacon, minced
1 cup cabbage kimchi, plus some of its juice, at room temperature
2 tbsp unsalted butter
salt and freshly ground black pepper
Preheat oven to 400º F. Put bacon in an ovenproof pan and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until almost crisp, about 5 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon and add sprouts, cut-side down.
Cook sprouts until they begin to sizzle, then transfer to oven. Roast until brown on one side, then shake pan to redistribute. Remove when bright green but browned and fairly tender, about 10-15 minutes. Meanwhile, purée the kimchi in a food processor or blender until fairly smooth.
Return pan to stove over medium heat [we found this was unnecessary, as the pan was plenty hot enough upon reemerging from the oven] and stir in butter, salt and pepper, and bacon. Put kimchi in bottom of a bowl and top with sprouts. Spoon a little kimchi juice over all and serve.
That combination of bacon, Brussels sprouts, and kimchi was positively irresistible and Chang's method worked like a charm (here, it's the addition of butter that's the brilliantly unexpected touch). We completed the scene with a simple Asian-inspired rice & fish combo not unlike this and a couple of Pilsner-style lagers.