I suppose there’s been much said and written about this, to me friendly vegetable – Brussels Sprout. What I have on my mind in particular, is what has been told about it being loved or hated. And it is not my intention to spoil anybody’s usual context, but I am becoming a bit fed up with the pre – Christmas poles of the usual question. On the other hand, however, there are certain kinds of fruit and vegetables that never stir much of a debate – you get an apple, you eat an apple, you make a pie and go on. Similarly, you see a carrot, you eat a carrot and perhaps, think to yourself whether it’s better cooked or fresh, or whether your carrot cake makes a good enough element to your try on healthy diet.
As a child I had never really eaten Brussels Sprout much, or often – not because I would be involved in any ‘love it or hate it’ argument, but simply because I have known them only considerably recently – and fell in love with them, although I didn’t like their bitter taste. Now, you ask, what does she mean? What is she trying to say – does she like them or not?
Well, the thing is, you couldn’t really see much of this vegetable around my home, or at least not in my early years, and it wouldn’t be due to the time of being there and then, before the revolution, as it happened with fruits like oranges or bananas – you really needed to be fast to get them when they arrived to the shops, but maybe because my nearest family, my parents, simply didn’t cook with it. Just between us, I believe my Mum was in the ‘hate it’ camp, although I never heard her say so.They used a lot of its other family friends types – Savoy Cabbage, Kale, and even more typically, Green and Red Cabbage. Lots of the latter kind is used in Slovak kitchen in fact – shredded in fresh salads, steamed in meat stews, or pickled, and then served as a wonderful source of vitamin C throughout the whole of our cold and sometimes rough winters.
So here comes the sentence, admitting, that I never liked the Savoy Cabbage stews or soups very much, but this applies rather to school canteen cooking than our home made meals. Both my Mum and Dad could make it lovely, and so could my Granny, who, living in a village even found it quite necessary – to prepare cabbage meals was one of the ways to keep strong and fit.
The reason why I mix all of them together in this article is, that while they were grown and used widely across my country, but as to the home kitchen, it really was the Savoy Cabbage that I would compare as the nearest to the Brussels Sprout – as far as the Slovak way of seeing it is concerned. In my mother language we even call it the same word – ‘kel ‘. Only that Savoy Cabbage is named more general, describing its look as one piece vegetable – ‘kel hlávkový ‘ , and the sprouts are called almost romantically – ‘ružičkový kel ‘ – a name that brings on the physical depiction of the tiny sprouts, but also may sound pretty and almost attractive if you think of the root word ‘ruže’ – roses.
I remember my Granny’s garden, with lots and lots of vegetables and fruit – it used to be, and still is my favourite place to go, like a shrine or an ode to what good and peaceful means to me, but believe me, I cannot remember her growing Brussels Sprout. My Mum claims they grew them, and used them in soups quite frequently, but I truly can’t think of any memory of it. I kind of blame my Mum for not using it, or giving it a better chance, but then, it was her kitchen, her cooking, her life. I use them.
It was just the other week, that I spotted this gorgeous stalk on a display at one of the local shops. Goodness gracious, how I loved seeing it! What pleasure it gave me.. I just couldn’t take my eyes off it, and was sure that sooner or later I would have to put my hands on it. And so I did.
I don’t usually buy the whole stalk, that is the point – I always buy the sprouts as buds separate from its stalk, and I guess most of us do the same. Here I purchased the whole stalk with the top leaves as well, and that is what also made a lot of difference – we had about three nice dinners to go, for a very reasonable price. When you buy them on stalk they just stay fresh at all times from the moment of being harvested till the minute you bring them home, and can be stored that way in a dry cool place for considerably long. Quite different to what you can buy in a supermarket. And as I said – three dinners, and it is true indeed, because the whole stalk also offers the sweet gentle leaves on its head, that can be prepared separately. I took the advice I was given at the shop and did just the thing, feeling happy afterwards – and to my surprise, a person who never liked this kind of vegetable, enjoyed it then, too. (You can see her happily befriending herself with the veggie stalk in the images above. My dear friend and her honest happy smile. Together with the sprouts she was also a gorgeous thing to photo shoot that day. Nice memories.)
I loved how kindly I was treated by the shop assistant, who understood my keen search for the ‘most beautiful’ of them – as soon as I admitted the urge to take photos of this gorgeous plant, and only then came with the idea of actual cooking. Never mind, I at least had a chance to introduce myself as a local food photographer. The lady was so nice, that she even took the trouble and went to a cellar to bring on more of them – to let me choose. I have always loved the shop for the choice of its local food produce, but now I like it even more. Wearing my own happy smile right now.
Brussels sprouts are so easy to prepare, and even if those who don’t like them may keep sticking to their claims of the bitter taste, or the texture that is not pleasing, I would still suggest even they, except for us, those who like it so much, would give them a try. Not only because it is so simple to prepare them just right, but also for the fact, that their steaming or stir frying doesn’t result in significant loss of their potent anticancer properties.
Here’s how we like them very much:
Cook some short – cut pasta, following the instructions on its packaging; for this particular recipe we regularly use Penne.
While the pasta is being cooked, in a another pan stir fry 1 finely chopped onion on 3 tbsp olive oil till golden, add thin slices of smoked bacon, for every ten sprouts use about three rashers, depending on how much you like it – if you don’t eat that, as me, just skip the bacon and follow the next steps.
Cut the sprouts off the stalk, give them a wash and cut them in halves or quarters – the bigger ones need to be quartered, the medium ones are just fine in halves, and the tiniest of them are perfectly alright as whole buds. I also love this choice of sizes which only comes when you buy them on stalk. Add them to salted boiling water and let them cook, but only for about three minutes, not more. Drain them well. While being cooked they should keep the beautiful light green colour.
Toss your pre-cooked sprouts into the pan with onion and bacon that has been fried to beautiful golden brown shade and crunchy texture, give the mixture a light stir so the sprouts are evenly covered with oil, add 2 cloves of garlic, crushed, and 1/2 tsp dried thyme, but if you can, you may also use fresh thyme instead, half handful. Then cook for another two minutes. Season with 1/2 tsp salt and 1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper. Meanwhile grind about 20 – 50 g Parmesan cheese, and again, the amount depends on how much cheese you’d like, use some for the pan, but keep a part of it for the serving. My suggestion is two thirds for the pan, one third for the serving.
After two – minute cooking, take the pan off the fire, add your pasta and those two thirds of cheese. Give it all another stir, be rather gentle. Don’t add the cheese nor pasta while the pan is still on fire – it is still hot enough for the cheese to melt nicely, and the heat of the fire would make both the sprouts and pasta cook further, and that is what you don’t want – in order to keep your pasta in shape, but mostly, for the sprouts stay beautifully crunchy and sweet.. Just look at them, they look and taste wonderful.
Serve warm, best piping hot, sprinkle each portion with the odd Parmesan and enjoy.
You may then find out why I love them so much. Besides enjoying all festive foods, let me wish you a very nice Christmas this year, let it be calm and peaceful for you, full of joy and love.
To find out more about the Brussels Sprout, or the place where I bought this fantastic vegetable for my photo shoot follow the links bellow.