The benighted Brussels sprout is finally having its day. It used to be quite fashionable to detest Brussels sprouts; now the momentum has shifted in the other direction and is gathering speed. As a descendant of cabbage-eaters on both sides of my family, I suppose it was inevitable that I would be a Brussels sprout lover. (Research shows, in fact, that our palates are most influenced by the foods our mothers consumed during pregnancy.) Previously, in order to induce friends to consume them, I had to cleverly disguise my Brussels sprouts with things like nuts and dried cranberries. The last time I did that, my friend Jess remarked, “I think you should have let the Brussels sprouts be Brussels sprouts.” Let the age of the Brussels sprouts begin.
The English, like the French, like to serve their Brussels sprouts with plenty of crispy lardons. The English, it seems, like to add animal fat to everything. Beef dripping chips! Jerusalem artichokes roasted in duck fat! Suet pie crusts! This dish draws on the ‘make it better with meat fat’ concept thanks to a serendipitous “what’s in my fridge” experiment.
I’ve been feeling particularly “Susan on a budget” lately. Usually this means that I plunder my larder for things like lentils and barley and subsist on a wholly vegan diet. However I had a weak moment at the Borough Market. I had planned to frugally and virtuously buy seasonal vegetables, but instead I found myself wandering past the stall that only sells Comté cheese (bought that) and, as it happens, at another stall I felt compelled to buy a chunk of ‘Nduja, the fiery fatty Calabrian sausage made of peperoncino and delicious bits of pig like belly and jowl. When I came home and checked my bank account I felt horribly guilty; the only way to (partly) assuage my guilt was to make sure I used up everything I had bought. Mushrooms and Brussels sprouts may seem like a weird combination, but I swear, in this dish they worked, with the mushrooms bringing a meaty texture and lush density to the dish. Unexpectedly, when combined with the spicy ‘Nduja, the Brussels sprouts acquired an exciting kimchi-like heat and piquancy. The kick of acid from the lemon juice kept the dish from straying into stodginess. Being a greedy piglet, I ate this dish on its own, but as a side dish it would go nicely with strong, assertive meats, like roast lamb or mutton, or even, served at room temperature and drizzled with olive oil, with a charcuterie plate. Ingredients:
400 g (about a pound) Brussels sprouts, trimmed, tough outer leaves discarded if necessary, and halved
150 g (about 1/3 pound) chestnut mushrooms, washed and quartered
2 big fat cloves of garlic, sliced
50 g (about two ounces) ‘nduja sausage, peeled and casing discarded
Juice of ½ lemon
½ tsp sugar
A generous amount (75-100 ml, or 3-4 tablespoons) olive oil
Salt and pepper
Blanch the Brussels sprouts in boiling salted water for no more than three minutes, then drain and rinse with cold water to stop the cooking.
Slowly heat the garlic in about 50 ml (two tablespoons) of olive oil in a frying pan. When the garlic starts to release an aroma, stir in the mushrooms, reduce heat to low, cover your pan and cook, shaking the pan from time to time, for about ten to fifteen minutes or until the garlic is soft and the mushrooms have reduced in size by half.
Increase the heat slightly and add the ‘nduja, sugar, and a little more oil if necessary to keep it from sticking to the pan, breaking up ‘nduja with a wooden spoon until it dissolves. Add the Brussels sprouts and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the Brussels sprouts are tender, about seven to ten minutes. Add the lemon juice, adjust seasonings, and serve.
Makes approximately four servings.