Thursday, January 29, 2009

Brussel sprouts

I haven't grown brussel sprouts successfully myself to date; the few plants that I have tried were either eaten by a woodchuck or frosted in the shady conditions of my main vegetable garden in winter.

So I definitely perked up in the fall when my greens-averse colleague mentioned how much she liked her homegrown brussel sprouts, as she put plants into the vegetable garden.

I'd never eaten a brussel sprout before going off to graduate school. In (San Franciso) Bay Area vegetable markets, though, fresh brussel sprouts were a new, enticing vegetable (along with fresh mushrooms, red peppers, and all sorts of other things). I tried them, in my enthusiasm for the variety of winter vegetables that were available, many from the productive nearby coastal valleys, and enjoyed their fresh, cabbage-like taste.

Spending time in Germany after graduate school, brussel sprouts were ubiquitous, but overcooked, offered up in little dishes at the Mensa (the University cafeteria). What was more memorable was the cucumbers with dill.

Returning from traveling during winter break, another colleague mentioned how good the baby brussel sprouts were, from the plants set out in fall.

I plucked a few this afternoon, along with some side broccoli sprouts and leaves, and some tough, overwintered spinach, and stir-fried them (in olive oil) with onions and garlic as our dinner vegetable -- absolutely delicious. I kept the leftovers for my lunch, not my gardening companion's, for a change!

5 comments:

  1. I love Brussel sprouts. Only tried to grow them one year. Not a big success. My youngest would eat Brussel sprouts like candy.
    Janet

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  2. They grow well for me in G'ville. I'm down to my last two plants from the fall planting now. And I too remember mensa brussel sprouts, although I think the frozen ones back home were equally offensive. (And yet I had fabulous cabbage dishes in Germany!)

    My current favorite treatment is in a vegetarian pasta. I pick them small, halve them and saute in butter or olive oil just a few minutes along with shallot or onion, mushrooms (shitake or cremini), fresh marjoram (mine hasn't died back this year luckily) and toasted pinenuts. (If the sprouts are larger, halve and blanch them just a minute or two.) When the sprouts are just tender, I add some cream and allow it to thicken a bit (optional but very nice-- a splash of white wine or sherry is good in this too). Toss with cooked pasta (a farro or whole wheat pasta works well here)and dribble over some truffle oil if you have it or sprinkle on parmigiano.

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  3. CEN, your brussel sprouts pasta sounds absolutely wonderful.

    I'll definitely try a crop next season. Perhaps cabbage is more amenable to long cooking? with better texture without the sulfur compounds becoming overpowering?

    I tried some frozen ones recently, and they were marginal, at best.

    I loved seeing the stacks of fresh brussel sprouts in German open markets in the fall. I've had a magazine picture of a summer Freiburg vegetable market displayed in my office for over 25(!) years.

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  4. I think the market in Tuebingen was the first place I ever saw brussel sprouts on the stalk. Very dramatic. Another dramatic thing in the markets there is a large cabbage with a pointed top. The women in the Tuebingen market just called it "wirsing" (although I think that applies to cabbages in general). These were often so large that they would just hack off a piece for you if you didn't want the whole thing. I just ran across something similar recently in the Johnny's catalog called "caraflex."
    It looks like a miniature version. I'm thinking of ordering some seed to try here.

    Those markets are just so great and probably a major reason why I garden. I was in Frankfurt last spring and happy to see the marvelous markets still thriving there.

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  5. CEN,
    I think I saw brussel sprouts as they grow on a stalk first in Germany, too. Impressive, but I still got a thrill from plucking them from the plants last week.

    I'm thinking that my inspiration for gardening was those European markets, too. I hadn't really thought about it before.

    There was tremendous diversity of vegetables in the innovative California vegetable markets in the Bay Area in my graduate school days (MANY years ago), inspirational, too, but they're still disconnected from the growers, unlike the continuing markets in Germany, France, and Italy (and so many places elsewhere).

    We're getting back to that here, at long last, with real farmer's markets and tailgate markets in even smaller cities, like ours.

    Lisa

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Please share your thoughts. I enjoy hearing from fellow nature observers, as well as whomever else drops by.

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