Bonnie wee brassicas

JOE BEAUMONT
Last updated 08:09 22/07/2013

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Ever wondered why Brussels put sprouts on the map? It's a head- smacking moment, but the forerunners of modern varieties (we can only guess about the gnarlies eaten by the ancient Romans) were first cultivated in the region now known as Belgium.

They took off like a rocket. Fast forward and today brussels sprouts are best grown wherever winter bites. Yep, frost is the sprout's best friend. It kills the bitterness, allowing us to enjoy the fresh and vital flavour.

Praise be, those stinky days of cooking them to death are long gone.

Sprouts go really well with a host of ingredients, from anchovies, bacon, blue cheese and butter to caraway seeds, celery, eggs and dill. Not to mention feta, garlic, ham, mustard, nutmeg, parmesan, pine nuts, pork, sour cream, soy sauce and wine vinegar.

Combine the wee brassicas with a couple of simpatico flavours and away you go.

Young is good. Choose small, firm, bright-green specimens with tightly furled leaves. Trim the base and any tough outer leaves and use whole, halved or quartered.

My tip for boiling perfect brussels, to avoid sogginess, is to cut them in half. Put them in a saucepan and cover with cold water. Bring to the boil and cook, covered, for four to five minutes, until just tender, and drain immediately.

Follow the recipe, or toss with butter and finely chopped parsley and season with salt and freshly ground black pepper. For a touch of crunch, add toasted slivered or flaked almonds.

Or try a tangy mustard-maple syrup glaze. While sprouts are cooking, put 2 teaspoons of Dijon mustard in a bowl and whisk with 2 tablespoons of maple syrup. Toss sprouts in glaze until they glisten and season with sea salt and black pepper, both freshly ground.

I always cook too many because I love bubble-and-squeak, a "leftovers" dish that traditionally calls for cabbage. Sprouts are just as good, especially with bacon.

Fry a finely chopped onion in olive oil and butter for a few minutes then add a few rashers of chopped streaky bacon. Continue to cook, stirring as necessary, until onion is soft and bacon has begun to brown on both sides.

Slice equal quantities of cooked sprouts and potatoes and add to the pan. Press vegetables firmly over onion and bacon to make a "cake". Fry until brown and crusty underneath, cut into quarters and flip each quarter to brown the other side. Great with fresh tomato sauce.

If you're a gratin fan, try brussels. Make a bechamel sauce with a touch of freshly ground nutmeg and pour over cooked chopped sprouts in a suitable ovenproof dish.

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Top with grated cheese and breadcrumbs, dot with butter and grill or bake as usual.

Today's recipe is one of those unlikely sounding combos that is unexpectedly delicious. The chillis give it a kick; use hot or mild ones, as you prefer. Excellent with grilled meat and homemade potato wedges.

SPROUTS WITH CHILLIS, PINE NUTS AND CREAM

Serves 4

2 Tbsp butter

600g sprouts, halved

1 cup chicken stock

2-3 spring onions, finely sliced

2 chillis, deseeded and finely sliced

1/2 cup pine nuts

1/2 cup pouring or sour cream

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Method

Melt 1 tablespoon butter in a large heavy saucepan over a medium- high heat.

Add sprouts and stir until coated with the butter.

Add stock, cover, bring to a boil and simmer until sprouts are almost tender, about 7 minutes.

Uncover and continue to cook for about 4 minutes or until stock has nearly evaporated.

Transfer sprouts and juices to a warmed bowl and cover.

Melt remaining butter in the same saucepan.

Add spring onions, chillis and pine nuts.

Cook, stirring, until nuts are toasted and chillis tender.

Stir in cream and bring to a boil.

Reduce heat, return sprouts to the pan and toss to combine everything.

Season with salt and pepper and serve at once.

- The Southland Times

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