Tuesday, May 02, 2006


bolivia & brussels. . .

woke up this morning, just really hungry, so i leapt outta bed to snack on some concord grapes. when my eye fell upon peter g's counterculture bolivia caranavi. . .

the next thing i knew, this caranavi was brewing my little cafetiére. pressed, it was still crisp, nutty, and very vanilla -- with fantastic body for an andean coffee.

fine, fine, fine! my husband's slipped disk is much better now; thanks for the email asking.

while we were talking yesterday -- for some unknown reason -- the subject of brussels sprouts emerged. of course, most people know that they loathe these little cabbages on their wacky stalks.

some sites insist the sprout was developed in northern europe; others insist it was grown by the ancient romans and brought north by them.

whatever. what's crucial to know is these babies, often associated with a nasty bitter flavor and an ugly cooking smell, can actually be good. if you get 'em small and young and early.

the italians understand this -- a big cabbage is a cavolo, a brussels sprout's a cavolini -- and they make them into soup and saute them in butter to serve with parmesan.

(the french also do something similiar, by separating out each little leaf(!), sauteeing them in brown butter, and topping 'em with cheese. for a long time this was the only way i liked 'em.)

however, they also serve them as a salad, with cheese and speck, which is basically a smoked prosciutto.

for some reason this appealed to me yesterday after my husband and i had talked about it, so i ran down to my local upscale market and got some fresh sprouts, 1 lb. i also picked up a bunch of thyme, some curly endive, and i already had a meyer lemon around the house.

like all italian things, this is so simple to do. i made this all up while listening from the kitchen to casablanca (really, one of the best movie scripts ever):

1 lb. small, fresh, early brussels sprouts
5 large white mushroom caps (the kind you get for stuffing) or cremini
1/4 lb. chunk good parmesan
1/4 lb. speck
fresh thyme
1 or 2 meyer lemons (or normal lemons if that's all you can get)
1/3 - 1/2 c. extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 salt, or more to taste
fresh ground black pepper

take out your favorite big chef knife (mine's a 10" wusthof, or you could use a mandoline) and halve each sprout lengthwise, trimming a little off the bottom if it's brown or hard.

discard any bruised or ugly leaves. slice each half as finely as you can, into mere slivers.

this will give you a large pile of stuff that looks strangely like mini-coleslaw, but instead of being damp and nasty, will be suprisingly delicate and lacy-looking, in pretty spring-like shades of green.

slice up the mushrooms vertically, also as thinkly as possible. gently put these together in a big dish.

you'll be surprised at how much there is.

now make up a little quick dressing -- squeeze the juice from your meyer lemon (my one lemon gave me 3 tablespoons juice) into a jar with a lid, and add the salt.

chop up a teaspoon or so of the fresh thyme leaves, and add to the juice. stir it all around so the salt dissolves. add 1/3 c. olive oil, put the lid on the jar, and shake to blend.

taste to see if you want more lemon juice, more salt, more thyme, more oil. . .make it so you like it.

pour this dressing over the sliced sprouts and mushrooms and toss with extreme care. there should be just enough to very lightly coat the mixture; you'll be garnishing the salad with a drizzle more oil, so don't add too much dressing at this stage.

i like to let this sit overnight so that the mushrooms absorb the lemon-thyme flavor. taste the salad to see if it needs a bit more salt, but remember that the parmesan and ham garnishes will be salty.

to serve, make a base of your curly endive or whatever green you like, scoop about 1/2 c. of the sprout salad on top of that.

nicely but with a casual air, drape over a slice of speck on top. on the speck, add a nice big shaving of parmesan.

drizzle this attractive heap -- think of it as a spring haystack -- with good extra-virgin olive oil, and as much fresh black pepper as you like.

this is a pretty way to showcase nice seasonal produce and trick your friends and family into eating healthy brussels sprouts.

having soaked overnight in lemon and thyme, with nice oil, the bitterness should be reduced greatly if not completely offset into a pleasing radish-like flavor. since you're not cooking them, the sprouts won't smell up your kitchen in a nasty way.

you can enjoy them for their crunchy texture, which should contrast nicely with the ham.

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posted by fortune | 8:23 AM | top | link to this | email this: | links to this post | | 0 comments

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