I apologize Mom, but I’m about to throw you under the bus. Growing up we did not eat many vegetables. And if we did, they probably came out of a can. My mother will argue the point. “We ate veggies”, she protests, “carrots, peas, corn”. I do have some recollection of the canned peas and butter with mashed potatoes on meatloaf nights. Carrots were special occasion food, often glazed. Corn, well, I suppose – canned, creamed, cobbed – is that a vegetable? But my body chemistry is comprised primarily of pasta, tomato sauce, Spaghettios, meatloaf, meatballs, beef stew and Dino’s cheese tuna.
For restaurant people, this might sound strange. But we served diner food and were ashkenzaik Jews. There must not be a lot of arable land in Israel or Eastern Europe, cause the veggie seems to have escaped the ashkenazi diet (except overcooked carrots in brisket and soup). I simply don’t recall ever seeing a green vegetable. My sister, though non-confrontational when it comes to family issues, would likely concur.
As an adult I’ve gone kicking and screaming into the world of vegetables. Steamed or boiled are the worst. I mean really – these things don’t taste good naturally, so why kill the texture without adding flavor? Raw is better, but I’d opt to throw them in a juicer rather than choke down the acrid flavors of raw broccoli or chard. Give me au gratin or a puree with parmigiano or anything else to disguise or enhance.
Yet, somehow I’ve managed to find enjoyment in one of the most universally despised members of the vegetable kingdom, the brussels sprout. In the 70s and 80s the brussels sprout was the stuff of legendary tales of woe. I don’t think I ever actually saw one in person, but it was synonymous for the avoidable. Images of kids making foul faces while choking down brussels is all I needed cement my impressions.
As I have grown into eating seasonally and exploring different flavors I’ve naturally been exposed to brussels sprouts in Northern California. They’re everywhere. And people seemed to love them! Wha? Huh? C’mon. For reals, yo? Yup, true dat. So gently I wandered into that good night. And to my surprise, I loved them too! When roasted or pan fried they can gain a sugary crust and people were pairing them with bacon, well…anything with bacon works for me.
Over the years I’ve played with different recipes and massaged my favorites toward the exceptional. My dear friend, and talented designer, Jennifer Kesteloot [click to see her awesome site] claims that I make the best brussels sprouts ever. Don’t go near her at a dinner party where they are served, because she’ll eat your hand off if you linger too long by them. I recently received a request on Facebook to post a recipe from a batch I made at Sundance festival last year. Word is out.
So, here we go with my go-to recipe, and if I can muster the energy, I’ll give a newer variation at the end.
Brussel Sprouts with Pancetta and Vinegar
Preheat and oven to 350. Allow for about 5-10 whole sprouts per person. Remove any brown leaves. Cut them in half and place them face down in a sauté pan in a single layer – don’t stack them. I often have to use two or three pans to accommodate my parties. Drizzle some olive oil over top of them and in between them. Perhaps about two tablespoons per 12″ pan. Cut some pancetta into thin slivers about 1″ tall and 1/8″ wide. Spread them over top of the sprouts liberally.
Turn the flame on to medium high to high. Don’t be afraid of the heat. Let them sit. Let them sit. Let them sit. The trick here is to develop a char on them. Leave em alone and wait until they get pretty brown. The natural sugars here will seal in flavor and add sweetness. Check them by just turning one over too see and when they are all brown enough, give the pan a few shakes to loosen them all up. Once they are loose you can toss them about to get the pancetta spread around and starting to cook for a moment.
Next, grab some vinegar and deglaze the pan, while tossing the sprouts. Be liberal. I have been using Sherry vinegar lately with great success, but if you prefer sweeter try balsamic or even some of the fancy flavored ones like a citrus or pomegranate. Experiment. Then take the whole pan and put it in the oven until the pancetta crisps and the sprouts are fork tender. You can keep them warm in here by turning the oven to 200 if you want to prepare ahead.
Lastly, when you are ready to serve, toss some more vinegar, salt and pepper to taste. Serve warm.
Ok, quickly, I’ll give you number two…
Fried Brussels Sprout Leaves with Lemon
Take the sprouts and peel the leaves. This is tedious but worth the effort. Collect the leaves in a bowl. Prepare a deeper pot with about a cup of oil – olive or canola or a mix, depending on how much flavor you want to add. Get the oil to 350 degrees and toss in the leaves. Stir them and fry them until they are tender and slightly crispy. Not too much, not too little.
Drain the leaves well on paper towels and put them in a metal bowl. Add some flaky sea salt, pepper, lemon zest and juice to taste. Toss the leaves and add some freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano. Serve warm.
Become the legend within you with these recipes. Embrace your inner herbivore. My mom is coming to visit next week, so I’m bound to get an earful. Just know that you can break the cycle…my son eats his vegetables!