I didn't quite get around to canning my own produce like I thought I would last summer, although I did freeze some. Frozen fruit and vegetables - properly prepared for the freezer - is nearly as healthy as fresh-picked, and often more so than canned, which may have sugars or preservatives added. Unfortunately, not all produce freezes alike.
A year or two ago, when CopperBlue closed, I went for dinner there on one of the last nights it was open, and ordered the chef's choice prix fixe. One of the dishes came out garnished with Brussel sprouts. I must say with all bluntness that I was never, up until that point, a fan of Brussel sprouts. It is a misfortune of the vegetable, like rutebegas and its cousin, cabbage, that when they're bitter, they're awful and there is nothing you can do to fix them.
But to my astonishment, the Brussel sprouts neatly arranged around the fish were superb. Delicious, even. I was so astonished that after dinner, I stopped by the kitchen to ask Michael what he had done to them.
"Aw, Brussel sprouts get a bad rap," he said, smiling. He went on to explain that when overcooked, Brussel sprouts release a sulfur-based compound which is what gives them the infamous bad flavor. (Similar substances can be found in foods such as kale, broccoli, turnips, cress, radishes and mustard, among others.) Properly - lightly - cooked, they taste quite good.
He told me the recipe was quite simple - parboil the sprouts for a minute or two in salted water; once they turn bright green, drain off the water, slice them in half, and give them a quick sauteé in olive oil with pepper and a touch more salt.
Of course, I went home and tried it myself a few days later, and of course, he was totally right. When I went to my mother's for a visit not long after, I made Brussel sprouts for her - she, too, had a bad history with sprouts and was skeptical that I could convert her. She, too, was convinced, and a month or two later, she called me up to tell me she'd tried making them herself, with good results.
As Brussel sprouts are very nutritional, I was glad to add them to my repertoire in the kitchen. And thanks to Chef Tsonton (now executive chef over at the new Hotel Sax here in Chicago) for showing me that long-held opinions of food can be changed in an instant.
Brussel sprouts and golden beets
I make a fairly simple variant on the simple Brussel sprouts recipe by adding golden beets to the mix, and then sprinkling diced red peppers over the top to add color and variety.
Turn your oven on to 350 to warm it up to roast the beets. Three beets (roughly baseball size) and a small bag of sprouts will be enough to serve two as a main course or 4-5 as a side dish.
For the beets, trim off the greens - can save them for cooking on their own if you like their flavor, peel, and chop. (I chop them into eighths, top to bottom). Unlike the red variants, gold beets will not bleed color all over your chopping board and hands; nor do they taste quite as powerfully tangy as the red ones. I usually line the cooking sheet with parchment paper to make cleanup easier; spread the beets in an even, singular layer. Although some would recommend olive oil, I usually just sprinkle some water over the slices, toss a little bit of spices over the top, and put them in the oven for about 10-15 minutes while I work on the sprouts.
Get the Brussel sprouts ready: trim the stem and peel off the outermost leaves. Fill a frying pan about 1/2 full with water and add a pinch of salt; cover and allow to come to a shallow boil. Add the sprouts in a single layer; put the lid on, and allow them to boil for 1-2 minutes (depending on size), until they turn bright green.
Drain the water; then chop the sprouts in half along the core. Add about a teaspoon of olive oil into the frying pan, toss in a bit of salt and pepper, then once the oil has warmed up, toss the sprouts in for a quick sauteé. I add a small pinch of the same spices that I used on the beets; in the photograph above, I used the Spice House's "Sunny Spain" variety, but I think there are plenty of traditional spices, like thyme or a ratatouille blend, that would work very well on these vegetables.
Once I've tossed the sprouts into the oil, I pull the beets out of the oven and toss them in with the sprouts. I take half a lemon and squeeze it liberally over the mix as it cooks for 30-60 seconds - remember, no overcooking! The lemon gives a nice tang to the dish, especially using that Sunny Spain blend, which already has a touch of lemon in it.
Remove from heat and serve immediately. (Even properly cooked, Brussel sprouts are best when fresh and warm.) As previously mentioned, a garnish of diced red peppers adds a nice perk to the look of the dish.