Thursday, March 13, 2014

Recipe of the month: Roasted Brussels sprouts

It's kind of a cheat to count this as the recipe of the month for March, since we actually tried it for the first time in late February. But we've tried a couple of variants on it in since then, and anyway, it's just too good not to share.

As I've mentioned in previous entries, this year Brian and I are planting Brussels sprouts in our garden for the first time. Neither of us has had much experience with cooking them before, and in fact, both of us grew up thinking we didn't like them—but that was because we'd only ever had the frozen kind, which we've since discovered to be a pitiful substitute for the real thing. On a visit to my sister a year or so back, her husband cooked some pan-roasted Brussels sprouts that were so delicious we both kept coming back for seconds and thirds, and I think that was what first got me interested in growing them. However, knowing that there are delicious ways to cook Brussels sprouts isn't the same thing as being able to cook them ourselves, so when we discovered some bagged Brussels sprouts on sale for $2.99 on our last visit to Trader Joe's, it struck us as a good opportunity to learn. (I think the bag was only 10 ounces, which works out to $4.64 per pound, but compared to the $5.99 a pound they charge at the Whole Earth Center for them at this time of year, it looked like a bargain.)

For our first attempt at this unknown vegetable, we decided to try a simple recipe out of Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything Vegetarian: Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Garlic. (In my experience, roasting and adding garlic are two ways to make practically any vegetable taste good, so doing both of them at once seemed like it couldn't miss.) I don't want to tread on Bittman's toes by reproducing his recipe, but the gist of it is simple: heat some olive oil in a pan, then put in the halved Brussels sprouts, along with whole, peeled garlic cloves and some salt and pepper, heat them on the stove until they start to brown, then move the whole pan to a 450° oven and roast them for half an hour. The first time we tried it, we feared we might have overcooked them, because they came out crunchy and nearly blackened—but they were absolutely delicious. Bittman suggests drizzling them with balsamic vinegar, but they didn't need it a bit. We gobbled up the whole batch, garlic and all, and then sat looking mournfully at the empty pan. The rest of the meal (I think it was roasted free-range chicken and baked potatoes) simply paled in comparison.

That first batch was so tasty, we couldn't resist the opportunity to try it again. Over the past few weeks, we've treated ourselves to half a pound of Brussels sprouts on every visit to the Whole Earth Center, thus keeping the overall cost down to $2.99 (though sadly, the batches are even smaller). We've done the roasted sprouts twice more, and we've also tried Bittman's Sauteed Brussels Sprouts with Hazelnuts, which were also very tasty—though not as absolutely addictive as the roasted ones. In addition, Bittman's book notes that most Brussels sprout recipes will also work with shredded cabbage, which has the advantage of being a much cheaper vegetable. He recommended red cabbage cut into wide ribbons for the roasted sprouts recipe, so we tried that, and it was also very good. Maybe not quite as good as the Brussels sprouts, but good enough that we gobbled it right up and left nothing in the pan. So with cabbages on sale extra-cheap this week for St. Patrick's Day, we'll definitely take advantage of the opportunity to make the cheaper version of this dish again, and maybe some of the other Brussels sprout recipes as well. And meanwhile, we're anxiously looking forward to June, when we can plant our first crop of Brussels sprouts and see how they do. No matter how many we're able to grow, we should have absolutely no trouble eating all of them. (Of course, oven-roasting veggies isn't quite as much fun in July, but I have a hunch these might be pretty good cooked over charcoal, as well.)

I'm so enthralled with this recipe that I'm actually starting to wonder whether maybe it could even make frozen Brussels sprouts edible. Bittman's recipes all call for fresh ones, but I did a quick search and found a similar recipe at Food.com that's made with frozen sprouts, so maybe it wouldn't hurt to give it a try. Tip Hero notes that frozen veggies are typically on sale all month for National Frozen Food Month, so if it works, we might actually be able to indulge our newly acquired taste for a lot less than $2.99 a batch. Personally, I'd be happy to roast up a whole pound of these little delights at a time—I'm sure we'd still polish them off at one sitting.
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