For many people, Brussels sprouts rank right up there with the most hated vegetables in the world. They conjure up memories of strong cooking odors, a mushy texture and a bitter taste. Much of this bad reputation comes from the way they were handled. Good chefs know that the same food product can take on very different characteristics depending on how it is cut, fabricated and cooked. The cooking method can be more important than the food itself.
The following recipes require slicing the Brussels sprouts into thin slices and then either sautéing them briefly or baking them in a tart. It produces an entirely different taste and texture for this much-abused vegetable. Incidentally, Brussels sprouts are very good for you — with vitamins A and C, folic acid, dietary fiber and a number of cancer-fighting compounds.
LEEK AND BRUSSELS SPROUT TART
Begin by making a single-crust pie shell. Place 1 cup flour in a bowl and whisk in 1/2 teaspoon salt. Cut in 1/2 cup chilled shortening with a hand-held pastry blender so that it resembles coarse cornmeal. Stir in 1/4 cup ice water with a dinner fork and turn the dough out onto a floured board. Form it into a flattened disk, wrap in plastic film and refrigerate.
Cut off the ends and remove outer leaves from 1 quart of Brussels sprouts. Cut each sprout in half through the stem. Holding the stem end, slice the sprout crosswise with a sharp paring knife and set aside. Trim, rinse and slice 2 leeks (white part) into thin slices and add them to the sprouts.
Heat a sauté pan and add 3 tablespoons butter. When it foams, add the sprout mixture along with 2 tablespoons fresh thyme and 1 teaspoon each of coarse salt and pepper. Sauté over medium heat for 10 minutes and remove.
Roll out the pie dough and place it in a 9-inch pie tin or a fluted tart tin. Whisk 2 eggs and 1/2 cup heavy cream together and combine with the sprout mixture. Stir in 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese and pour mixture into the uncooked pie shell. Top it with 1/2 cup more of grated fresh Parmesan cheese and bake at 425 degrees for about 40 minutes.
BRUSSELS SPROUTS COLCANNON
Peel and cut 2 pounds of Yukon Gold potatoes into 2-inch chunks. Trim and cut 1 quart of Brussels sprouts into slices as in the above recipe. Place the potatoes in a saucepan, cover with water and bring to a boil. Simmer until tender, about 20 minutes.
Heat a large sauté pan and add 5 strips of bacon. When almost crisp, remove the bacon and place it on a towel-lined plate. Add the sliced sprouts to the bacon fat along with 2 tablespoons fresh thyme and 1/2 cup white wine. Cook for 5 minutes and remove.
Drain the cooked potatoes and add them to the sprouts. Chop the cooked bacon and add to the sprouts. Mash everything together and add 2 tablespoons butter, 1/2 cup milk and 1 teaspoon each of salt and pepper. Garnish with 2 tablespoons chopped chives.
PENNE WITH BRUSSELS SPROUTS
Trim and slice 1 quart of Brussels sprouts as in the above recipe. Peel and slice 2 shallots to make about 1/2 cup. Mince 1 tablespoon of garlic.
Heat a sauté pan and add 1 tablespoon olive oil and 6 pieces of pancetta. When the pancetta is brown, remove and chop. Add the sprouts, shallots and garlic to the pan and cook for 5 minutes before adding 1/2 cup chicken stock and 1/2 cup heavy cream and the chopped pancetta. Season with 1 tablespoon sea salt and 2 teaspoons pepper.
Bring 2 quarts of water to a boil and add 1 box of whole grain penne. Cook the penne until almost done and add 1 package of baby spinach. Remove the pasta immediately and drain.
Combine the sprout mixture with the pasta and spinach and stir in 1 cup grated Parmesan cheese. Add 1 cup toasted pine nuts and 1/2 cup chopped Italian parsley before serving.
ROASTED BRUSSELS SPROUTS AND CARROTS
Trim the stems off of 1 quart of sprouts and remove the outer leaves. Peel and trim 1 pound of carrots and slice them into 3-inch sticks about 1/2 inch thick.
Toss the vegetables in a large bowl with 1/4 cup canola oil, 2 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary, 2 tablespoons chopped fresh sage and 2 tablespoons fresh thyme. Season with 1 tablespoon sea salt and 2 teaspoons ground pepper.
Place the seasoned vegetables on a foil-lined sheet pan and roast at 400 degrees for 30 minutes.
John Ross, a chef and author, has been an active part of the North Fork food and wine community for more than 35 years.