Monday, 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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.