I grew up hating Brussels sprouts. I'd never seen them, mind you, let alone tasted them but I hated them with a passion simply because I'd heard some TV character on a show I can't really remember describing how horrible it was. And the name: Brussels sprouts? How appetizing is that? The closest personal contact with the vegetable came when my brother flew to England via Russian airlines, Aeroflot (which was at the time the cheapest way to fly to Europe) and said he'd tasted Brussels sprouts on the plane. He didn't like it one bit. That only strengthened my case against the miniature cabbage.
I think I must have been 37 years old when I first set my eyes on Brussels sprouts in the imported section of the supermarket. I thought they looked kinda cute but I had no intention of buying them or trying to cook them. After all, the people on TV say that they're bad. Oh, and my brother too. It didn't occur to me that on an airplane, even the can't-go-wrong potato tastes nasty. Most times.
And then, a couple of years ago, as I started visiting and reading more and more food sites, I began to see a completely different picture being painted about the vegetable. Here were food writers, cooks and chefs who actually loved Brussels sprouts and extolled the virtues of the vegetable. British chef/writer Hugh Fearnley-Wittingstall for one describes Brussels sprouts as "sweetly, toothsomely tender and delicious." Really?
My curiosity was piqued.
Well, since my cooking resolution this year is to actually cook all the recipes/ingredients I'd bookmarked but never actually got around to, I thought I'd finally give the sprouts a go.
I decided to take Hugh (first name basis, already?) to task and try his recipe for Creamed Brussels Sprouts. I had to adapt it a little as he uses bacon: sooo not an option for a vegetarian. Hugh also uses chestnuts which I didn't have at hand. Bummer. So much for following his recipe. Oh well, if the sprouts were really that wonderful, they should be able to stand out despite a few ingredient modifications, I thought.
I replaced the bacon with some porcini mushrooms (portobello would work fine too, given it's robust flavour) and the chestnuts, I substituted with roasted hazelnuts.
Creamed Brussels Sprouts with Mushrooms and Hazelnuts
(Adapted from Hugh Fearnley-Wittingstall's Creamed Brussels Sprouts with Bacon)
8-10 Brussels sprouts
2 tbsp heavy cream
2 cloves garlic, chopped fine
1/2 cup dry porcini mushrooms, re-hydrated and chopped fine
10/12 roasted hazelnuts, roughly chopped
a handful of chilli flakes
salt and pepper
1. Slice off the rough part of the stems and discard the outer leaves if they are damaged.
2. Cut an 'X' into the core/stem of the sprouts. This will make sure the sprouts cook all through.
3. Heat a pot of salted water. When the water has come to a rolling boil, toss in the Brussels sprouts and cook for about 6-8 minutes.
4, Drain the sprouts and cut them in half, length wise and put them in a bowl.
6. Transfer the sprouts, butter and cream into a blender and pulse until you get a rough, creamy puree.
8. Garnish with chopped nuts.
Even without the bacon and chestnuts, this dish is a keeper. The creamed sprouts are great as a dip or to be spread on bread. I must admit I ate quite a few spoonfuls off the bowl without any bread or crackers. Delicious indeed.
My guess is that if this dish (or Hugh's original recipe for non-vegetarians who actually do have bacon and chestnuts on hand) is your introduction to Brussels sprouts, you're going to want more. I know I do! Next on my list? Hash sprouts with capers and lemon juice. Try this!