It seems like everyone I know has a story about how much they hated Brussels sprouts as a kid but now they love them. I have no such story– Brussels sprouts never made an appearance on a dinner plate while I was growing up. I just trusted others when they said they were disgusting, so I never tried cooking them on my own. Then restaurants started cooking them in the trend of reforming comfort foods. (Although if so many people hate them, then how are they a comfort food?) Brussels showed up everywhere, usually cooked with butter and bacon. How could that be so wrong? I was soon eager to try them, and the first time I did, I was so excited. They were such a pretty, pale shade of green, served alongside some roasted chicken, practically screaming “springtime! springtime!” to me in the middle of a cold, dead winter. But those sprouts… well, they were kind of disappointing. Not gross and sulphury mind you, just… blah. I decided that in a world where people either loved or hated Brussels sprouts, I was just plain ambivalent.
It took a cooking class to change my mind and make me take a side. John and I received a gift certificate as a Christmas gift one year to be used at a now defunct community cooking space in our neighborhood. We decided to take a wintertime class on cooking using only ingredients that could be sourced within 200 miles. Unlike other cooking classes, there were no recipes to be found. We were greeted with wine and a table full of fresh ingredients procured at farmer’s markets and from local producers. With our classmates, we brainstormed how we wanted to combine items with a little bit of guidance for enhancing flavors from our teacher. We then divvied up the dishes from our menu and our teacher walked among us, giving direction when needed and drawing everyone’s attention to various key moments in each group’s cooking process so that we could all learn technique and tips. John and I got the semi-boring task of cooking steaks (made more awesome by learning how to prep and fry a certain root vegetable whose name is escaping me now) but I felt incredibly proud when our teacher praised how perfectly I’d cooked those steaks, done entirely on my instinct without my knowing what I was doing.
One of the dishes that came together that night was Brussels sprouts cooked in lard, with crushed, toasted hazelnuts and some crispy pieces of home cured guanciale. That was the dish that inspired brussels love in me! The slight bitterness of the brussels was complemented by the sweetness of the hazelnuts. Each bite had a supple, silky feel from the lard but you were brought back to earth by the salty crunch of the pork jowl bacon. Oh such love. A war practically broke out over the leftovers, but luckily, we managed to snag a couple of them in our takeout container.
I obsessed over that combination of Brussels sprouts and hazelnuts but it took almost a full year after that class for me to try to make some Brussels sprouts on my own at home. The first attempt was tried out for Thanksgiving– kind of ballsy if you ask me since I would be testing them out for an actual German who professes a deep and unabiding love for brussels. I parboiled the brussels to soften them a little while I cooked up a mixture of thinly sliced, sweet onion with a hint of garlic and crisped up some bacon. The sprouts then get mixed in with the onions and lightly dressed with butter. A bit of fresh thyme adds a subtle, woodsy flavor, somehow making the toasted hazelnuts scattered atop a little more nutty and comforting. Finally, I drizzle a little honey over this right before serving to give a touch of sweetness. If you hate brussels, I’ll just say (in as little of a condescending tone as I can muster) you’re an adult now. You know you won’t die if you take one bite. Give it a try– I bet it’ll make a brussels lover out of you.
*Note: If you don’t eat bacon, you can make a pork-free, vegetarian version of these. To add an interesting complexity to the dish when I couldn’t use bacon, I browned the butter before tossing the sprouts, onion, and garlic in it. Just increase the amount of butter used to 2 tablespoons and heat it in a small pan over medium heat. The butter will foam up, then the foam will dissipate and the clarified liquid left behind will gradually darken, smelling nice and nutty. Stir occasionally and watch carefully as the butter will quickly go from browned to burned, and the latter does not taste good.
- 1 cup skinned hazelnut pieces
- 1 lb Brussels sprouts
- 1 small onion, thinly sliced in half moons
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 4 slices thick cut, uncured bacon
- olive oil
- 1 tbsp unsalted butter
- 2 tsp fresh thyme
- salt and pepper
- 1 tsp honey
Preheat an oven to 350 degrees F. Arrange the hazelnuts in a single layer on a baking sheet. Toast in the oven for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the nuts are lightly toasted. Set aside.
Prep the Brussels sprouts by cutting off the tough tip of each sprout, removing any discolored or wilted outer leaves, and cutting the sprout in half. Bring a large pot of water to boil and lightly salt. Add the brussels and let them cook for 5 minutes or until bright green. Drain and cool down with a thorough rinsing of cold water. Set aside.
Heat about 2 tsp olive oil in a large skillet. Add the onion and garlic and cook until the onion is softened. In a small skillet, heat about 1 tsp olive oil. Chop the bacon into 1/4 inch wide lardons and crisp in the small skillet. Remove the cooked pieces to a paper towel lined plate to drain.
When the onion has cooked, about 5-7 minutes, add 1 tbsp unsalted butter to the skillet. When butter has melted, add the Brussels sprouts and toss around in the butter and onion mixture. Stir in the fresh thyme and let cook until sprouts are heated through, about 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Pour the sprouts out into your serving bowl and sprinkle the hazelnuts on top. Drizzle the honey on top and gently mix before serving.
CSA Count: 2
Garden Count: 1