I got fancy with dinner last night, and made chicken in a mushroom thyme cream sauce, and leek and fennel risotto seasoned with fennel seeds and thyme and splashed with absinthe to make the fennel flavor pop -- and a Brussels sprout salad that knocked our socks off.
Brussels sprouts are Pat's favorite vegetable, and there are lots of ways to fix them that are utterly delicious. I'm going to give you my two favorites, but you can be madly creative with the little flavor buttons if you simply adhere to two rules:
1) They must be fresh, not frozen; the fresher, the better. You are looking for smallish sprouts without yellow wilted leaves or ooky black spots -- and this time of year you should be able to find a stalk of them, fancy for the holidays. They are really fresh when you cut them right off that stalk, provided they aren't all wilty.
2) You must absolutely not overcook them. Note that they are overcooked as soon as most people consider them fully cooked: you want them to retain a little tender-crispness, not to melt into cabbagey softness. Their texture is neat when they are soft, but they lose something in the flavor department.
So, last night's salad:
FEATHERY BRUSSELS SPROUTS SALAD WITH FENNEL (2 generous portions)
12 Brussels sprouts, shaved paper thin with a mandoline or a very sharp knife and patience (if you do this by hand, cut them in half so that they don't roll on the cutting board and then slice them fine)
1/2 bulb of fennel, pale part only, cored and shaved paper thin
1/3 cup or so of flavorful nuts (hazelnuts or almonds are wonderful)
2 tablespoons olive oil
juice of 1 lemon
salt and black pepper to taste
a few tablespoons of freshly shaven shards of Parmesan cheese
Mix all ingredients, withholding nuts and cheese if desired to sprinkle atop. I didn't; I mixed it all in with my hands and it was wonderful that way.
And my favorite sprouts recipe...
FIERY BRUSSELS SPROUTS
15 or 20 Brussels sprouts, trimmed and cut in half or in quarters
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon butter (optional - use more olive oil if preferred)
2 or 3 cloves of garlic, minced or cut into fine matchstick shapes
1/2 to 1 teaspoon of red pepper flakes
1/2 to 1 teaspoon of fennel seeds
salt and black pepper to taste
2 tablespoons pine nuts (totally optional and I most often forget them, but mmm)
Heat oil and butter over medium-high heat, and throw in Brussels sprouts and garlic. Stir fry until sprouts are very bright green and tender-crisp (you can hurry this up by adding a tablespoon or three of water and letting it cook off -- it will help steam the sprouts and keep the garlic from burning if you have other things going on). Add spices, stir and fry a few more moments, and serve. These are AWESOME with Italian food: alongside pasta with a red sauce, lasagne, or sausage and peppers on polenta.
If these two recipes don't blow your skirt up, I don't know why.
Brussels sprouts also love to be paired with: a spoonful of grainy mustard in a butter sauce, a squeeze of key lime juice and salt and pepper, flavorsome olive oil and a lavish last-minute splash of Vincotto, or fingerling potatoes and bacon.