What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you think of Brussels sprouts? If your early experiences with them were anything like mine, you might shudder to recall a dull green, mushy, stinky excuse for a vegetable—something to be assiduously avoided at all costs.
As I noted in an earlier post, finding those unappetizing-looking orbs on my plate was cause for subterfuge…namely, stuffing them in my pockets when my parents weren’t looking, so they could be properly disposed of in the toilet. Others find them disagreeable because of their propensity to cause potential “embarrassment,” so you might want to stay away from them if you’re on a hot dinner date.
Here’s the thing though, when Brussels sprouts are properly cooked—and by that, I mean not overcooked—they can rival your favorite vegetable any day of the week. To the Brussels sprouts of yore, here’s what I have to say to you today: you’ve come a long way, baby. After years of swearing them off, I had a revelatory experience while working as unpaid slave labor in a 3-star restaurant in New York City. The menu featured a dish of roasted Brussels sprouts, and when I reluctantly tasted them one day in the kitchen, I was absolutely floored by their flavor. I suppose part of the appeal could have been that my tastes had simply shifted with age, but more likely, it’s that the technique of roasting is so magically transformative. Like the homely frog that’s been kissed by a princess, roasting turns this much-maligned member of the Brassica family into a sexy, handsome vegetable.
The Brussels sprouts recipe that I’m sharing with you is something I’ve been making for several years, and it’s a dish that I look forward to every fall, about the time Brussels sprouts start showing up in the markets. Roasting the sprouts caramelizes their surface, adding an almost smoky sweetness, and gives them a crackly exterior and tender interior. The walnuts add an earthy assertiveness and crunchy texture that perfectly complement the sprouts, while the Romano cheese provides a pungent saltiness that brings all the flavors together.
When I saw a fresh stalk, covered in bright green sprouts, this weekend, I couldn’t resist an excuse to make and write about this favorite dish. My preparation is partly inspired by a wonderful Brussels sprouts salad by Chef Jonathan Waxman, whose recipe also makes use of toasted walnuts and Pecorino Romano cheese.
Like other members of the Brassica cabbage family, such as cauliflower, broccoli, turnips, and kale, Brussels sprouts go well with big flavors like mustard and bacon, aromatics like onions and garlic, and acids like balsamic vinegar and lemon. These roasted sprouts would be delicious served alongside fish, pork or chicken. For example, a super-easy main dish is Dijon-roasted salmon. Just season salmon fillets with salt and pepper, coat the upper flesh side in a mixture of Dijon and whole grain mustard, and then roast skin side down in a 400°F degree oven until the salmon is just cooked through (12-15 minutes, depending on the fillet’s thickness). The mustard adds great flavor and also helps keep the fish moist while cooking.
Alternatively, you could try wrapping fillets of flaky white fish like cod or scrod in bacon and then pan-searing. Roast chicken or quail would be a nice pairing too; or, if the other white meat is your preference, try roasting a pork loin, braising a pork shoulder (perhaps in white wine or beer, chicken stock and mustard), or searing some pork chops. But the star of the show, as far as I’m concerned, is the roasted Brussels sprouts.
And to all of you avowed Brussels sprouts-haters, I dare you to try this dish and then tell me you still don’t like them. I’m willing to wager that you’ll be a
Roasted Brussels Sprouts
Makes about 2 cups, but I might double it if
serving to 4 adults, even as a side dish
An original Sugar On My Tongue recipe
This recipe is more about technique than exacting measures. Ingredient amounts can be adjusted based on how many sprouts you have on hand and your taste preferences. You could also change it up by roasting the sprouts with some sliced shallots or onions, glazing the sprouts with some balsamic vinegar during the last 10-15 minutes of roasting, or even adding some bacon. It’s hard to go wrong with this dish.
3-4 dozen Brussels sprouts
½ cup chopped walnuts
3 Tbsp olive oil
Fresh, ground black pepper
Romano cheese (about ¼ cup, grated)
- Preheat oven to 325°F.
- Place the walnuts on a baking sheet and toast in the oven until fragrant and starting to color, about 10-15 minutes. Keep an eye on them, as they can go from perfectly toasted to burned very quickly. Remove from oven, transfer to a plate, and set aside to cool.
- Turn the oven temperature up to 400°F after the walnuts have been removed.
- Trim the stem end of the sprouts (if it has a nub on it, just trim the stem so it’s flush with the rounded bottom of the sprout), and then pull off a couple outer layers of darker leaves to expose the lighter colored interior. Once they’ve been trimmed, rinse the sprouts under cold water in a colander, then dump them onto a dish towel and give them a brief pat down to dry them off.
- Cut the sprouts in half and place in a medium bowl. Add the olive oil, and season with salt and pepper. Stir together until the sprout surfaces are well-coated.
- Place the sprouts on a large baking sheet. If they can’t all fit in a single layer without crowding, use two sheets. I like to line my baking sheets with tin foil for easier cleanup.
- Roast in oven for 30-40 minutes, until sprouts can easily be pierced with a sharp knife and the exterior has some caramelization. I usually pull them out halfway through the cooking time and use tongs to flip each one over so they get color on both sides.
- Remove from oven, and transfer the sprouts to a serving bowl. Add the toasted walnuts and grated cheese, and quickly toss together before serving.
A few tips:
- If you buy your Brussels sprouts on the stalk, try to find one with sprouts that are approximately the same size. I tend to prefer medium-sized sprouts, which are about 1½ inches in diameter. You can always leave tinier ones whole or trim larger ones as needed, to make them more uniform in size before roasting. Having spouts the same size means they’ll cook at the same rate.
- The walnuts can be toasted in advance. Once the nuts are cool, store in a covered container until ready to use.
- Serve these as soon as they come out of the oven, while the sprouts still have a crackly exterior.
Note: Get a printer-friendly PDF of this recipe here.