Saturday, November 14, 2009

The Season of the Sprout

As a child, Brussels sprouts and I did not get along. I wasn't a particularly picky eater, but just the smell of those little green spheres provoked a rather powerful reaction in me. "I can't!" I remember telling my mother, as I tried to swallow through my gag reflex. My mother, not the vegetable tyrant type, would only ask me to have two or three bites, but nothing had ever been so difficult. Those sprouts might as well have been poison, for the way my body reacted.

So, it is no great surprise that, even through 15 years of vegetarianism, I've gone most of my adult life without touching a Brussels sprout. I'm just not into self-torture. But then, one night a couple of years ago, a friend prepared them for dinner, sauteed with a little butter and olive oil and a touch of salt and pepper. What a revelation it was! I could not believe what I'd been missing. I began eating Brussels sprouts whenever I could get them--at restaurants mostly--but I was still too scared to prepare them on my own, worried that some magic touch was required to make those little cabbages taste so sweet.

Enter the farm share, which last week included a gorgeous stalk full of beautiful little sprouts. As I marveled at their rather Seussian appearance, I found myself slightly panic-stricken, wanting to pick up the phone and call the friend who had first cooked them for me. How did you do it?? Instead, I took a deep breath and the same approach that I've taken with all of my farm share firsts. I did a little research on my own, looking for the simplest, easiest method of preparation--I figured that would minimize my chances of screwing things up. Thanks to Ina Garten, of Barefoot Contessa fame, I found a recipe that's as basic as it gets:

*Preheat the oven to 400 degrees
*After cutting off any tough ends and removing any wilted leaves, toss the Brussels sprouts with olive oil, salt, and pepper.
*Roast for 35 to 40 minutes, until crisp on the outside and tender on the inside.

And just like that, I had a plate full of delicious, golden brown sprouts, crispy and tender as promised. Fast, easy, and the perfect way to showcase the beautiful flavors of sprouts fresh off the stalk.

Of course, if you're looking for something a little richer, a little heartier on a chilly November evening, I recommend this recipe from the folks at America's Test Kitchen. My husband has made it a couple of times, and it us fabulously, decadently yum. Enjoy!

Skillet-Braised Brussels Sprouts with Bacon and Shallots

4 oz. bacon (4 slices), chopped fine
2 shallots, sliced thin
1 lb. Brussels sprouts, stem ends trimmed, discolored leaves removed, and halved through the stem
1/2 c water
1 t unsalted butter
1 T red wine vinegar
salt and pepper

Cook the bacon and shallots together in a 12-inch skillet over medium heat until the bacon is crisp and the shallots are browned, about ten minutes. Transfer the mixture to a paper-towel-lined plate to drain.

Add the Brussels sprouts, water, and 1/2 teaspoon salt to the skillet and increase the heat to medium-high. Cover and simmer until the Brussels sprouts are bright green, about 9 minutes. Uncover the pan and cook until the liquid has evaporated and the sprouts are tender, about 5 minutes longer.

Off the heat, stir in the bacon mixture, butter*, and vinegar. Season with salt and pepper to taste before serving.

*to me the butter is optional...Paula Deen would definitely do it, but it's a bit too rich for me!

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