Brussels sprouts, saved from cooking oblivion


For decades, brussels sprouts battled a bad reputation, probably the result of being steamed or boiled to an army-green death.

But the ways they’re being cooked now would make any vegetable jealous: roasted with honey and harissa until impossibly crispy; sautéed with salty, spiced sausage and topped with pickled red onions; doused with cream and baked with cheese and breadcrumbs until thick and bubbling.

Cabbagelike in appearance (and part of the hearty brassica family), brussels sprouts are available year round in cooler climates like coastal California, where most of the nation’s supply originates.

Over on the East Coast, they make their way to markets in the colder fall months and stick around well into winter. As the season progresses, they grow from tighter, nickel-size buds to leafier bulbs about the size of a silver dollar. Whatever their size, plan on about 1 1/2 pounds of untrimmed brussels sprouts to feed four to six people, depending on what else is for dinner.

While they may never take mashed potatoes’ place, these versatile, nutty, sweet little buds more than deserve a place on the Thanksgiving table.

Compared with other more traditional root vegetables, they don’t take long to cook and can be made on the stovetop or in the oven. Nearly all the prep work (trimming stems and cutting buds, for example) can be done days ahead and even outsourced to willing volunteers. Best of all, they can play almost any role, from a lighter side, roasted and tossed with herbs, to a rich and satisfying garlicky gratin.

But mushy? That’s all in the past.

Recipes:

Brussels Sprouts Gratin

Yield: 6 servings

Total time: 35 to 45 minutes

1 1/2 lbs. brussels sprouts, ends trimmed and halved lengthwise

2 large shallots, peeled and quartered lengthwise

2 cloves garlic, peeled and thinly sliced

5 Tbsp. olive oil

Kosher salt and black pepper

1 1/2 cups coarse breadcrumbs or panko

3/4 cup heavy cream

1 cup grated Gruyère (about 3 ounces)

1. Heat oven to 425 degrees.

2. Toss together brussels sprouts, shallots, garlic and 2 tablespoons olive oil in a 9-by-13-inch baking dish. Season with salt and pepper and roast, tossing occasionally until sprouts are bright green and just tender (think al dente), 12 to 15 minutes.

3. Meanwhile, combine breadcrumbs with remaining 3 tablespoons olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Set aside.

4. Pour cream and scatter Gruyère over sprouts and toss to coat. Continue to roast until cream is reduced by about half and sprouts are beginning to brown, another 12 to 15 minutes.

5. Scatter breadcrumbs over sprouts and return to oven until golden brown and crisp, 5 to 8 minutes. Let sit 1 to 2 minutes at room temperature before serving.

Garlicky Brussels Sprout Salad with Apples, Walnuts and Parmesan

Yield: 6 servings

Total time: 35 to 40 minutes

1 cup walnuts

1 lb. brussels sprouts, ends trimmed

1 small garlic clove, finely grated

2 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice, plus more, if desired

1/4 cup finely grated Parmesan or pecorino, plus more for shaving (about 2 ounces)

Kosher salt

Freshly ground pepper

1 fennel bulb, quartered, cored and thinly sliced lengthwise

1 tart apple, such as Pink Lady, quartered, cored and thinly sliced lengthwise

1/2 cup pomegranate seeds (optional)

1 cup mint leaves, coarsely chopped

1/2 cup parsley, tender leaves and stems, coarsely chopped

3 Tbsp. olive oil

1. Toast walnuts in a skillet over low heat, shaking pan frequently, until evenly toasted and fragrant, 5 to 8 minutes. Transfer nuts to a cutting board and chop.

2. Remove all outer leaves from the brussels sprouts (reserve cores for roasting or pickling) and place in a large bowl with garlic, 2 tablespoons lemon juice, 1/4 cup Parmesan and season with salt and pepper. Massage leaves until they are all evenly coated. Let sit about 5 minutes. (This will help them soften.)

3. Add walnuts, fennel, apple and pomegranate seeds (if using) to brussels sprouts and toss to coat. Add mint, parsley and olive oil and season with salt, pepper and more lemon juice, if desired. Garnish with shavings of Parmesan.

Sautéed Brussels Sprouts with Sausage and Pickled Red Onion

Yield: 6 servings

Total time: 30 to 35 minutes

1 small red onion, peeled and cut into 1/8-inch slices

1 Tbsp. red wine vinegar

Kosher salt and black pepper

3 Tbsp. olive oil

1 lb. Italian sausage (hot or sweet), casings removed

1 1/2 pounds brussels sprouts, trimmed and halved

1 cup flat-leaf Italian parsley, tender leaves and stems (about 1/2 bunch), roughly chopped

1. Toss onion in vinegar and season with salt and pepper. Mix thoroughly and set aside.

2. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a large skillet (at least 12-inches) over medium-high heat. Add sausage, using a wooden spoon or spatula to break it up into smaller pieces. Cook, stirring occasionally, until sausage is cooked through, browned and crispy, 8 to 10 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, remove sausage from skillet, leaving any fat behind. Set aside.

3. Add remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil to the skillet along with brussels sprouts. Season with salt and pepper and shake skillet so that most of the sprouts land cut-side down, turning some over with a fork, if necessary. Cook, without stirring, until brussels sprouts are well browned on one side, 5 to 8 minutes. Shake skillet to continue to brown sprouts all over, another 5 to 8 minutes. Add sausage back into skillet and stir to combine.

4. Remove from heat and add onions and any vinegar left over, tossing to coat. Season with salt and pepper, add parsley and serve.

Pairings:

To pour red or white matters little for most dishes on the Thanksgiving menu; either choice can complement. A salad may pose a challenge. White wine usually edges out red. But this apple salad from the Publican, a Chicago restaurant renowned for meat, holds its own against a house red. In assembling the dish, the sous-chef, Ben Truesdell, tore a page from the Waldorf salad, with apples and walnuts — but then he went his own way. It is a sturdy creation that can be made in advance and sit on a buffet without wilting. The cured ham, which is optional, drives the pairing more toward red wine than white.

— Florence Fabricant


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