OK, I have a confession to make. I thought Brussels sprouts were spelled Brussel (as in not with an s on the end) sprouts. I learned this important piece of information from a helpful column in our local paper called “Produce Picks” by Michael Marks. Pointing out what’s in season (and cheap), Marks usually includes some arcane info on the origin or cooking methods of various fruits and vegetables. As it turns out the mini-cabbages we love to hate are the only vegetable that originated in Western Europe and, as such, they honor the city they came from—Brussels, the capital of Belgium.
Like most people, I grew up loathing Brussels sprouts. The smell alone made we want to run away and join the circus where I was certain they did not serve those odious little green cabbages. But a few years ago, a side of roasted Brussels sprouts came along with a braised lamb dish I’d ordered. I pushed them around my plate but, eventually I threw suspicion to the wind and tried one. The crunchy, nutty flavor completely surprised me tasting nothing like the mushy, smelly ones of my youth. I was a convert.
One of the great benefits of living the Bay Area is how close we are to many of our food sources. Drive an hour in just about any direction and you'll find farmland. Just to the south of us is Monterey county where they grow everything from lettuce to artichokes and, you guessed it, Brussels sprouts, big spikey stalks of them. These beauties were in Trader Joe's market, which inspired to me to roast up a batch.
I’ve experimented with various methods of roasting and have determined that 20 minutes at 400 degrees is ideal. I usually just drizzle them with oil and throw them in oven, but to mix it up a bit, I tried adding balsamic vinegar this time. The piquant flavor of the vinegar jazzed them up and was a nice change of pace. These are soooo easy and have the added bonus of being good for you (just like your mother said!). They go particularly well with pork and lamb, but also make an excellent and hearty vegetarian meal spooned over some cheesy polenta—yummmm.
Roast Brussels Sprouts
1-2 lbs. Brussels sprouts, cut in half and outer, darker leaves removed
2 tbls. olive oil
1 tbls. balsamic vinegar
Salt and pepper to taste
Heat oven to 400 degrees. Wash and prepare sprouts. Toss with olive oil and vinegar and bake for 20 minutes until a caramel brown color. Check at 15 minutes to make sure they’re not getting too dark.
Tips and Tidbits
Note the orange zest in the photo. Bad idea. I decided to try to add this after reading another recipe. It tasted bitter and detracted from the dish. You can dress the sprouts up a bit by adding Parmesan cheese or even roasted pine nuts, but, honestly, they don’t need it.
Some recipes call for putting the vinegar on after you’ve roasted them. I found this to be too overpowering, but you may prefer to have the vinegar stand out more.