Shredded brussels with pancetta and nutmeg

November 8th, 2010

I am not sure I fully appreciated my cousins growing up. They would visit once or twice a year and I remember shared activities such as carving pumpkins together, sliding down very cold mountain waterfalls, and throwing toy cars at one another.

They did, however, hold some degree of cool factor as my aunt married a Brit, so they lived (still do) in England, thereby possessing classic British accents. This provided ongoing entertainment for my brother and myself, as we tried to imitate their speech and use their different words and phrases – a “lorry” is a truck? “Bloody” is an explicative? “Brilliant!”

What I don’t remember is cooking together or talking about food.

I don’t know how this escaped us, because my aunt and cousins are apparently the best of the best in this department. Top rate Indian fare and on the fly seasoners – real artists my mother tells me. They have yet to cook for me, but when I posted my at the moment favorite brussels sprouts recipe last winter and my cousin chimed in with a suggestion of shredding the sprouts and sauteing them with pancetta, butter, and nutmeg, I was sold.  I knew that as soon as sprout season was back in swing, I had to try it.

Here’s what he said – I love his phrasing and I can just hear it in his lilting British accent:

“Another great way to cook them…is to shred them finely (like the mini cabbages that they are) and saute them in plenty of butter with crispy streaky bacon or (even better) some pancetta. Add a couple of twists of nutmeg right at the end along with your lemon juice and you’ve got a vegetable dish that is not exactly a healthy green veg, but delicious and also a world away from the insipid, soggy little balls of green mush that everyone passes off for sprouts over here in England!”

Ah! What else is there to say? Other than the fact that this kitchen averse pregnant mamma has made these twice in one week and cannot stop thinking about them.  They really are that good (so good, I threw caution to the wind and grabbed my camera on the fly and snapped this picture so I would have something, anything, to show you – so spontaneous – what is happening to me?)!

Shredded brussels sprouts with pancetta and nutmeg

2 1/2 lbs. fresh small, young brussels sprouts
4-6 ounces pancetta, sliced thin or diced small
2 Tablespoons butter (more as needed)
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg (freshly grated if you have it)
sea salt and freshly grated black pepper to taste
couple squeezes of fresh lemon juice (from 1/2 lemon)

Trim off the ends of the brussels sprouts and shred or dice into thin strips. Rinse and dry the shredded sprouts. Melt butter in a large pan. Add the pancetta and saute until beginning to brown. Add the sprouts and saute until they begin to soften, 5-10 minutes. Add up to 1 more tablespoon of butter for moisture and taste if needed/desired. Sprinkle nutmeg evenly over sprouts and season with salt and pepper. Turn heat up on the pan and deglaze with a couple of squeezes of lemon juice. The predominant flavorings should be the salty pancetta and the warm nutmeg, with only a hint of sour in the background from the lemon, so start with just a little lemon (1 tbs), and add more to taste. This will make 4-6 side servings.

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A summer quinoa salad with tomato, basil and toasted pine nuts

July 13th, 2010

quinoa salad

While I am not gluten intolerant, I do love experimenting with different grains from around the globe that have been used for centuries to create many traditional ethnic foods, and which oftentimes are also incredibly high in nutritive value.

Quinoa is no exception in this category. Used for thousands of years in South America, it is high in protein, essential amino acids, dietary fiber, and multiple vitamins and minerals (not a quinoa ad, just wiki info I like to research when working with new ingredients).

So, for me at least, gluten free cooking is often about discovery, nutrition, and curiosity as much as anything else.

quinoa salad

I’ve been tinkering with quinoa flour for some time now, but have only recently begun experimenting with the whole quinoa grain. At first I was surprised by it’s petite size and nutty flavor and can imagine it easily substituted in many couscous and bulgar based recipes.

I am often searching for quick, tasty meals to make myself for lunch as I work from home, and I pulled this “salad” together on a whim last week in the middle of the day, and was pleased with the result.

I tossed the quinoa with a bit of olive oil, fresh grates of parmesan, torn basil leaves, slices of roma tomatoes (from our garden – finally!), toasted pine nuts, and finished it with a squeeze of lemon juice and cracks of sea salt and black pepper. It was lovely just like this, but I also think some lumps of fresh mozzarella would be at home here.

I ate it at room temperature, but found the leftovers even better the next day, cold, straight out of the fridge.

quinoa salad

Summer quinoa salad with tomato, basil and toasted pine nuts

1/2 cup quinoa
1/2 cup loosely packed freshly grated parmesan (and/or fresh mozzarella, cubed)
10 basil leaves, torn
2 roma/plum tomatoes cut into 1/4 inch rounds
1 squeeze of fresh lemon juice (1 teaspoon)
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon toasted pine nuts
sea salt and freshly ground pepper

Cook quinoa according to package directions (1/2 cup took 1 1/4 cup water for cooking for me). Toss with the olive oil and cool to room temperature (may place in fridge or freezer for a few minutes to achieve this quickly). Toss quinoa with the rest of the ingredients, adding salt and pepper to taste. Makes one meal serving, or 2-3 side servings. Scale as desired. Serve at room temperature or cold.

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Roasted brussels sprouts with olive oil and fresh lemon

February 22nd, 2010

My experience with brussels sprouts is a bit like my experience with people – first impressions are not always the last impressions. It happens more often than I’d like to admit that just as I feel I’ve gotten someone all figured out, I am suddenly and swiftly smacked smartly across the cheek by an enlightening discovery, thereby unveiling my certain capacity for fallible judgment. While such a discovery may be disheartening, at its best, it illuminates unseen beauty and merit, and in an instant, what had been previously rejected becomes tangible, relatable, and intensely desirable. Brussels sprouts and I have just this kind of personal history.

Pretty little sprout leaf by lkwm on dRcPretty little sprout leaf2 by lkwm on dRcPicking off loose leaves by lkwm on dRcBrussels laid out by lkwm on dRcBrussels laid out by lkwm on dRc

My childhood first impressions of these adorable rolly polly wild cabbages need little embellishment, as they are shared by many a child far and wide yet today. Mushy. Slimy. Stinky. Growing up, my mother did not make brussels sprouts (that I remember), but somehow I had enough knowledge of and endearment to their notorious reputation to fondly refer to them as “brussels brains.”

One leaf left by lkwm on dRcImpressions of one leaf by lkwm on dRcSprouts halved and strewn by lkwm on dRcLeaf and base by lkwm on dRc

However, during college, shortly after my mother married my stepfather and long after my judgement of the petite little cerebrals at hand was firmly set in place, my stepfather prepared for me some fresh brussels sprouts. Really? Are you sure these are brussels sprouts? I thought brussels sprouts were BAD.  How can this be? Brussels brains cannot actually be GOOD.

Lemon halved by lkwm on dRcLemon sliced by lkwm on dRcLemon sliced by lkwm on dRc

The thing is, I had never had fresh brussels sprouts, cooked right. If you’ve never had brussels sprouts, please try them this way. First. And do not overcook them. The reason brussels sprouts have gotten such a bad rap is two fold. One is the fact that eighty plus percent of brussels sprouts sold in the U.S. are frozen. I have no problem with many frozen vegetables, however, brussels sprouts are one where it is difficult to recover the pleasingly firm texture and delicate nutty flavor once frozen and defrosted. Secondly, brussels sprouts contain sinigrin, an amazing health agent, however, when overcooked, disintegrates into a mustard oil that smells (and tastes?!) like sulphur.

Sprout bath in sunlight by lkwm on dRc

Oven roasting is a beautiful way to prepare brussels sprouts, creating a slightly crisp outer leaf while retaining a firm texture throughout, thereby banishing for good all slimy “brussels brains” childhood impressions. I like to cut my sprouts in half so I can get more seasoning over more surface area, and in this preparation, the the olive oil gives strong compliments to the nutty sprout flavor alongside generous sprinklings of sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. But what takes this simple recipe over the top, is just as simple itself. Drizzle each portion with fresh squeezes of lemon juice and you have a side dish or light lunch that sings fresh, tangy, salty, earthy, nutty, and not easily forgotten.

Sprouts ready to roast by lkwm on dRcJust out of the oven by lkwm on dRcRoasted! by lkwm on dRcRoasted brussel sprouts in the evening light by lkwm on dRc

Roasted brussels sprouts with olive oil and fresh lemon

3/4 lb. (12 ounces) brussels sprouts*
1 tablespoon olive oil*
1/4 teaspoon of fine sea salt
several cracks of freshly ground black pepper
1/4 – 1/3 fresh lemon cut into slices or juiced (to taste)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Remove outer leaves and bases and cut each sprout in half. Swirl sprouts in a tepid water bath to wash and remove any embedded dirt. Remove and pat to dry. Put sprouts in a medium bowl and toss to coat with olive oil, sea salt, and pepper to taste. Line a baking dish with aluminum foil and spread sprouts out evenly in dish. Bake for 13-16 minutes, depending on the size of the sprouts. Sneak a sprout out to test for doneness – I prefer most veggies rather firm, so you may wish a longer cooking time, just remember, sprouts are ruined by overcooking, so keep watch! During the last minute or two of baking, if you desire some browned and crispy edges, you may wish to turn the broiler on. Place sprouts either in a serving bowl and drizzle with lemon juice, or serve in individual dishes with a nice lemon wedge alongside (this is how I do it, thus it is difficult for me to say exactly how much lemon, but I know I use at least 1/4 of a medium lemon for this amount of sprouts). This makes about three side dish servings, one large, or two smaller light meal portions – may be scaled as desired.

* Smaller, younger sprouts tend to be more tender and have a more delicate flavor.
* You can taste the flavor of the olive oil so pick your favorite – a light, buttery and not overbearing variety would be perfect.

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