I'm a winter lover, a defiant flag on the hill waving in the face of my heat-loving brethren in Phoenix. I stand outside and cheer for heavy, grey rain clouds, encouraging them further and further until they blot out the sun. I love the first hint of chill in the air we start to feel in November after a long, long summer, and am always a little reluctant to give it up again when early spring starts to make itself known around this time of year. And as happy as I'll be to be up to my ears once again in corn, tomatoes and fresh basil come summer, I am winter's faithful hanger-on, and I'll be eating winter foods for as long as is realistically possible.
Which brings me to Brussels sprouts.
I really think these long-maligned and much neglected little crucifers deserve much kinder treatment than we usually give them; a long bath in steam or the even more traditional boiling water does absolutely nothing to bring out their nutty, savory appeal and everything to make them into limp, soggy tummy-bombs instead. So unfair! Brussels sprouts are high in vitamin A, C and fiber....but even importantly to me, they are delicious. Although even I have to admit, it wasn't until a houseguest of ours last year showed me a different way of preparing sprouts that I even reconsidered them. He showed us that they could be sauteed lightly in olive oil and finished with garlic and lemon juice so that they were bright & sunshiny, crunchy and caramelized. Ever since then I've been in love with the humble sprout, and when I came across this recipe, I bookmarked it immediately, knowing I'd try it the very first chance I got.
This is adapted from a recipe at the lovely Molly's Orangette blog (which she herself adapted from a recipe in the sadly now-defunct Gourmet magazine; in this incarnation it's known as Pasta with Hashed Brussels Sprouts, Ham and Pecans). Hers featured pine nuts, mine gets its nutty kick from pecans, instead. Although I fully support her reasoning that the nuts need to be toasted separately and added at the very end to retain their character, as well as her addition of just he tiniest bit of cream. What recipe doesn't benefit from a few helpful glugs of cream? Finally, a few pink slivers of ham here and there add colorful zest and flavor, and a light sprinkling of Parmigiano at the end rounds out the nutty flavors and ties everything together. It's addictive, and let's hope so, because we're having the leftovers today!
Pasta with Hashed Brussels Sprouts, Ham and Pecans
(Adapted from Orangette)
¾ lb. Brussels sprouts, trimmed
3 Tbsp. pecans
½ lb. dried pasta (I used fettucine)
1/8 lb. chopped ham (I started with sliced smoked ham from the deli, and it was perfect)
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 Tbsp. unsalted butter
1 clove fresh chopped garlic
½ tsp. salt
3 Tbsp. heavy cream
grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
Preheat oven to 300. Place a large pot of salted water for pasta over high heat. Slice the Brussels sprouts finely using a very sharp knife or mandoline (I love using the mandoline, it makes everything come out evenly and thus, cook evenly. At least, in theory.), set aside. Roughly chop pecans and spread evenly on baking sheet, bake for a few minutes in warm oven until just lightly toasted (keep an eye on these, nuts tend to go from fragrant & golden to irretrievably burnt quickly).
When the water boils, add the pasta and cook until al dente. Remove and drain (reserve a little of the starchy cooking liquid if possible, it's full of flavor & body and is great to add to your pasta later if it needs a little extra moisture).
Place a large skillet on the stove and heat to medium-high, add the olive oil and butter and let everything get pretty toasty. Add sliced Brussels sprouts and ham and sauté, stirring frequently, until sprouts are bright green and barely tender, about 3 minutes. Add chopped garlic and saute a minute more. Remove from heat, add cooked pasta, and toss. Add the pecans and cream, and toss again. If the pasta seems a little dry, now is a good time to add a splash or two of your reserved cooking liquid. Taste & add a good pinch or two of salt as needed, as well as freshly ground pepper. Serve immediately, with grated cheese.
After our pasta with Brussels sprouts, there was an apple crumble. Have you ever heard Eddie Izzard's bit on his former music teacher 'Mrs. Badcrumble'? It's hilarious, but more to the point, the making of crumbles always finds me giggling to myself in the kitchen, slicing fruit or wiping flour from my hands and muttering softly, 'Mrs. Badcrumble.........Mrs. Badcrumble............'. Well, after masterminding the recipe shown below, I think it's safe to annouce that you may call me Mrs. Goodcrumble. Unless you are Eddie Izzard. In which case you should just call me. ;)
4 Granny Smith apples
3 Tbsp. sugar
1/4 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. ground ginger
1 tsp. cornstarch
3 Tbsp. pecans
several gingersnap cookies, crumbled into small pieces (optional, because I just happened to have these this time around, but highly recommended)
6 Tbsp. butter
3 Tbsp. brown sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
1/8 C. flour
1/8 C. rolled oats
Preheat oven to 350. Peel and slice apples thinly (again, I love my mandoline), toss in a bowl with sugar, cinnamon, ginger and cornstarch until coated. Layer evenly in a pie dish or small casserole and set aside.
Place 3 Tbsp. of butter in a small saucepan and heat over medium high heat until butter takes on a rich, nutty brown color (swirl often and do not allow butter to burn!), Remove from heat and set aside.
Roughly chop pecans, place in a bowl with oats and crumbled gingersnaps (if using), then pour brown butter over these and sprinkle with salt. Toss to coat and set aside to cool. Take remaining 3 Tbsp. butter and cut into pea-sized chunks. Rub these into the flour as if making pastry dough until everything begins to look 'crumbly,' then add brown sugar. Rub between your fingertips for a minute longer, then add oat/pecan/butter mixture and continue until all the dry flour is absorbed and the mixture looks like delicious crumb topping. Does it look good enough that you sneak a bite of it from the bowl? Good. On we go.
Sprinkle topping evenly over sliced apples in pie dish, and press down veeeeeerryy lightly with your fingertips here and there (it's supposed to be crumbly, get it?? But a little help here and there doesn't hurt, either.), then slide into the middle of your hot oven and bake for 40 min. Fruit should be bubbly around the edges when you remove it, and the crumb crust should be nicely browned. Let cool, then serve the way we ate it, with freshly made cinnamon whipped cream. Mrs. Badcrumble would approve.