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Sunday, December 10, 2006

Learning to Love Brussels Sprouts

I have a secret to divulge to everyone: I enjoy Brussels sprouts with great gusto whenever given the chance. Since these little gems of leafy green fibrous goodness have just started appearing on-the-stalk (crazy! Intimidating!) at farmers’ markets in California, visions of hot, tiny leafy vegetables are dancing in my head. The secret to learning to love this much-maligned wee cabbage of joy is quite simple: bacon and fat. Not necessarily in that order. Of course, bacon and butter would make a piece of cardboard taste like a slice of heaven, but these flavors complement the slight bite and complex leaved texture quite elegantly. The trick is to NOT overcook the sprouts—pull them out of the pan when they are soft enough to fork easily but not gooshy or, God forbid, stinky.
If you are watching the ol’ waistline as I am, try using turkey bacon in your recipes instead of doing without (unless you’re vegetarian/vegan. If you are, my apologies.). Turkey bacon won’t get as satisfying crunchy or greasy as real pork bacon, but I think the chewiness and thicker cut results in a better contrast of textures in my recipe. Use this dish as a side to a chicken- or turkey-central meal, or toss with pasta and grated Parmesan cheese for a satisfying, nutritionally rounded meal. Not to mention that the bright green and deep brown-red of the bacon give you a naturally healthy Christmas palette for the dinner table.

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
5 slices turkey or regular bacon, sliced into small, roughly square pieces
1 clove garlic, crushed and minced
1 lb. Brussels sprouts, cut in quarters lengthwise with outer leaves discarded
½ tablespoon butter (optional, but recommended if you’re using turkey bacon, which doesn’t give you yummy fattening drippings)
low-sodium, fat-free chicken broth to just cover the sprouts in your pan
salt and pepper to taste

1. Heat the olive oil and bacon over medium-high heat in a heavy saucepan or deep-ish skillet until the bacon becomes crispy. Add the garlic just before you think the bacon should be done to your liking and let it become fragrant with the dripping/oil. Drain off some bacon fat if you have any, reserving about a tablespoon.
2. Add in the quartered Brussels sprouts (watch your fingers when you’re quartering smaller sprouts, those things can be DEADLY), butter, and chicken broth to the pan. Bring to a fast simmer over medium-high heat and cook uncovered, stirring occasionally, until the sprouts are soft enough to fork but still have a bite or the broth has all evaporated.
3. Add your salt and pepper to taste and serve hot, heaped in a bowl. Garnish with a handful of slivered almonds or hazelnuts if you are so inclined.
Note: if you don't trust me, this recipe from the Food Network Kitchens is very similar.

P.S.: I’ve always wanted to try to make a miniaturized traditional New England boiled dinner, with Brussels sprouts instead of cabbage. Now, where can a girl get her hands on good, tiny corned beef when it isn’t St. Patrick’s Day or thereabouts?

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