Friday, April 26, 2013

An Unnatural Obsession

Brussels sprouts.  Why do some people hate them so?  They've been around for centuries, as far back as the 13th century!  Miniature cabbages that grow on a stalk.  They're small.  They're cute!  How can someone not like Brussels sprouts? Well, the first time I tried them (and it wasn't that long ago), I didn't like them either.   I thought they were bitter and mushy and just weren't that high up in my list of foods I couldn't live without.  Thinking back on it, I suppose boiling the crap out of them wasn't the best way to cook them.

Come to find out, good preparation is key.  'Duh', you're thinking.  So I gave them another try.  On the second go-round, I roasted them in the oven with onions and carrots.  That was a definite improvement.  They still had a little bite, sweetened by the carrots and onions.  They were moving further up on the list.  You know that phrase, 'The third time's a charm?'  It certainly was for me.  Brussels sprouts braised with a little chicken stock and red wine made those little heads of cabbage shoot damn close to the top of the 'Foods I Can't Live Without' list.  

Then it happened.  Really happened.  I now find myself craving Brussels Sprouts, daydreaming about them, I may even go so far as to say I'm obsessed with them.   I've found a dish where I think about making it on consecutive days and happily eating it over and over.  It's not complicated, but this dish does need a little something that you can prepare ahead of time.  There is the simplest red pepper oil from Heidi Swanson's [101 Cookbooks] 'Super Natural Every Day' that will make you wonder how you ever lived without it.  In this Brussels Sprouts and pasta dish, you'll be happy you didn't skip it.  And if you've never read her blog or her books, I highly recommend both.

You've got the comfort factor of a bowl of pasta, grated heaps of sauteed Brussels Sprouts, a little kick from lemon, and a little heat from the oil.  This is also one of the easiest meals you can throw together, which is kind of what I did to begin with.  It's those 'happy accidents' that turn out to be the best, don't you think?

Penne and Brussels Sprouts
Serves 2

2 cups cooked penne pasta
6 Brussels sprouts, washed, any less than prime outer leaves removed
2 Tbsp butter
3 Tbsp bread crumbs
1/2 teaspoon lemon zest, preferably Meyer lemon
2 Tbsp red pepper oil (recipe follows)
1/4 cup Parmesan, grated or shaved
salt and pepper, to taste

Cook your pasta and set aside.  Reserve about 1/4 cup of the pasta water.  Grate the Brussels sprouts using the large holes of a box grater.  You will have what looks like a lot of Brussels sprouts.  That's okay because they'll cook down a bit.  If you still have larger pieces because you're trying to save your fingertips from the box grater, that's okay too.

Melt the butter in a large skillet over medium heat.  Add the Brussels sprouts and stir frequently while the vegetables cook down.  You still want them fairly bright in colour, so only saute about 2 minutes.  Add the bread crumbs and mix well.  Add the lemon zest and one tablespoon of the red pepper oil.  

Add the pasta and combine well.  You can add a couple of tablespoons of the pasta water to make a little sauce with the oil and butter.  Drizzle the second tablespoon over everything and add the Parmesan.  Salt and pepper to taste.  

     Heidi Swanson's Red Pepper Oil
     Makes 1/2 cup

     1/2 cup olive oil
     1 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes

     In a small saucepan, heat the olive oil until quite warm.  Add the red pepper  
     flakes and stir in.  Remove from heat and allow the oil to cool.  Store in a 
    small  bottle or jar.  

If you were on the fence about Brussels Sprouts before this, I'm hoping your eyes will widen in wonder and delight after the first mouthful.