The charisma of Brussels sprouts

brussels sprouts_1

 

 

 

 

 

By Laura Pensiero, RD

Brussels sprouts are among the handful of vegetables that get better after the leaves have fallen and the first frost, or even snowfall, hits the ground. This, plus the fact that they’re so deliciously versatile, make them a perfect fit for the holiday table. If you didn’t have them on your Thanksgiving menu, make room in your Christmas or New Year’s Eve feast.

While Brussels sprouts, as advertised, have been widely enjoyed in Belgium, perhaps as early as the 1200s, I’ll always take the opportunity to credit Italians for things gustatory—and this vegetable was widely cultivated during Roman times.

These mini cabbages can be enjoyed raw, shaved into other salad greens, made into a winter coleslaw, or cooked: boiled steamed, or roasted. The latter cooking method is my favorite. Like many other people, for too many years the plain boiled Brussels sprout was my point of reference. But I came to adore this vegetable the first time I enjoyed the caramelized natural sugars straight from the roasting pan.

Speaking of sugars, the late harvest vegetables that prefer growing conditions between 45 and 75 F, really come to life after a frost or two. Local growers tell me that the freezing and thawing of Brussels sprouts cause complex carbohydrates to break down into simple sugars. The result is a sweeter less starchy vegetable. Roasting these beauties with a little oil or butter in the oven will do the rest of the work oxidizing the sugar and conferring nutty flavor and brown color. While vegetables do not contain enormous amounts of protein, they do have some, about a gram per ounce. This further contributes to coloration and depth of flavor.

So how do you get them oven ready and cooked to delectable perfection? The first step is to peel away any loose leaves not snug to the vegetables–these will cook too fast, over brown and give a burnt taste to the entire batch. Next trim off the bottom end taking care not to go too high up the stem; leaving the stem intact keeps the vegetable unified during cooking, tossing, and/or stirring. Cutting the Brussels sprout is where people go in different directions. The cabbage-like ball can be left whole, but a young sweet one will be dense and hard–you run the risk of overbrowning the outside as you wait for the inside to tenderize. Depending on size, I find them best halved or quartered. Again, the cut should be lengthwise up the stem, allowing the sprout to hold together.

Now the fun part, roasting. Surface area is important for caramelization. Use the correct size roasting pan. Too small, the crowded vegetables will steam rather than brown. Too large, big risk of overbrowning/burning. The sprouts, like any vegetable you roast, should be in an even layer with full contact to the roasting pan. A little bit of fat is absolutely essential to get the sugars sizzling and browning. I prefer olive oil to butter because of its higher smoke point. With butter you run the risk of burning. If you like the buttery flavor, stir a bit in at the end when removing from the oven.

Speaking of additions to the sprouts, they’re limitless and yummy (see below). As far as oven temperature, you can go HOT, 425 – 450 F, in the beginning to get things started then reduce the heat to 350-375F, or you can keep it steady at around 400 F, stirring here and there as they cook for about 25 minutes. If you notice over browning, simply reduce the oven temperature slightly and tent loosely with foil the way you would a chicken or turkey as it finishes cooking.

Those who say, “If it tastes good, it can’t be good for you,” never met a Brussels sprout. A member of the cruciferous family (kale, cabbage, kohlrabi, broccoli, cauliflower, etc.), it not only has that yin-yang of sweet and slightly bitter like its cousins, but it also contains all those 10-syllable phytochemicals that ward off carcinogens, positively affect hormones, reduce blood cholesterol, and bolster our immune systems. They’re also a very good source of many essential vitamins, including vitamin C and folate, as well as fiber. One cooked cup of Brussels sprouts offers all of this with only 55 calories.

Laura Pensiero, a registered dietician, is founder and creative force behind Gigi Hudson Valley, which operates the award-winning Gigi Trattoria in Rhinebeck plus a catering business. She is author of Hudson Valley Mediterranean cookbook.

What to add to Brussels sprouts

Bacon (pork or turkey) or pancetta
Roasted chestnuts
Pomegranate seeds
Caramelized onions or shallots
Pumpkin seeds
Toasted almond slivers, walnut halves or pecans
Other vegetables great for roasting (i.e. butternut squash, mushrooms, potatoes, sweet potatoes, cauliflower, and so on)
A dash of maple syrup or honey (at the end of cooking – put in too early, it’ll burn)
A bit of grated citrus zest (after cooking)
A dash of cayenne to lift and balance those sweet flavors
A dash of smoked paprika (for that smoky flavor without the bacon)

Roasted Maple Brussels Sprouts with Pancetta and Chestnuts

Makes 6 to 8 servings

This oven caramelized version has all that’s hard to resist: a hint of sweet and spice from maple syrup and cayenne, slightly bitter Brussels sprouts, earthy chestnuts and BACON!  Italian bacon that is. It’s an easy side, which can be made in advance, and offers a colorful and delicious preparation for the holiday table or for autumn and winter meals.

1 tablespoon olive oil
4 ounces pancetta (optional), diced
2 cups fresh roasted chestnuts* (approximately ¾ pound in shell)
2 pounds Brussels sprouts, ends trimmed and halved (quartered if large)
Salt and pepper
¼ cup warm water
2 tablespoons pure maple syrup
Pinch cayenne

*Substitute peeled, frozen chestnuts if desired.

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.

Roasting efficiently removes the shell and richens the flavor of chestnuts. Using knife tip, cut small “X”  on the flat side of outer shell, then spread on baking pan. Roast for 10 to 15 minutes; you will see the skin curling away and the chestnut taking on a golden color. Remove from oven and let cool slightly. The shells can easily be removed. Set aside chestnuts.

Reduce oven to 400 F.

Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a large (3-4 quart) sauté pan or skillet over medium-high heat. Add pancetta and cook, stirring often, until pancetta renders its fat and is lightly browned. Add chestnuts, toss or stir to combine, then cook about 1 minute. Add Brussels sprouts and cook, tossing or stirring, about 2 minutes. Transfer vegetables to large rimmed baking pan or roasting pan; they should spread out in one layer. Season with salt and pepper, and roast in upper third of oven, stirring once halfway through roasting, until vegetables are golden and tender, 25 to 30 minutes.  Use the tip of a sharp paring knife to test the doneness at the base of a Brussels sprout; it should insert easily.  In a small bowl or cup, stir together the water, maple syrup and cayenne. Pour the mixture into the hot baking sheet, using a wooden spoon to dissolve any browned bits.  Return pan to oven and cook another 5 minutes.  Serve hot or warm family-style in festive bowl.

The charisma of Brussels sprouts

brussels sprouts_2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

By Laura Pensiero, RD

Brussels sprouts are among the handful of vegetables that get better after the leaves have fallen and the first frost, or even snowfall, hits the ground. This, plus the fact that they’re so deliciously versatile, make them a perfect fit for the holiday table. If you didn’t have them on your Thanksgiving menu, make room in your Christmas or New Year’s Eve feast.

While Brussels sprouts, as advertised, have been widely enjoyed in Belgium, perhaps as early as the 1200s, I’ll always take the opportunity to credit Italians for things gustatory—and this vegetable was widely cultivated during Roman times.

These mini cabbages can be enjoyed raw, shaved into other salad greens, made into a winter coleslaw, or cooked: boiled steamed, or roasted. The latter cooking method is my favorite. Like many other people, for too many years the plain boiled Brussels sprout was my point of reference. But I came to adore this vegetable the first time I enjoyed the caramelized natural sugars straight from the roasting pan.

Speaking of sugars, the late harvest vegetables that prefer growing conditions between 45 and 75 F, really come to life after a frost or two. Local growers tell me that the freezing and thawing of Brussels sprouts cause complex carbohydrates to break down into simple sugars. The result is a sweeter less starchy vegetable. Roasting these beauties with a little oil or butter in the oven will do the rest of the work oxidizing the sugar and conferring nutty flavor and brown color. While vegetables do not contain enormous amounts of protein, they do have some, about a gram per ounce. This further contributes to coloration and depth of flavor.

So how do you get them oven ready and cooked to delectable perfection? The first step is to peel away any loose leaves not snug to the vegetables–these will cook too fast, over brown and give a burnt taste to the entire batch. Next trim off the bottom end taking care not to go too high up the stem; leaving the stem intact keeps the vegetable unified during cooking, tossing, and/or stirring. Cutting the Brussels sprout is where people go in different directions. The cabbage-like ball can be left whole, but a young sweet one will be dense and hard–you run the risk of overbrowning the outside as you wait for the inside to tenderize. Depending on size, I find them best halved or quartered. Again, the cut should be lengthwise up the stem, allowing the sprout to hold together.

Now the fun part, roasting. Surface area is important for caramelization. Use the correct size roasting pan. Too small, the crowded vegetables will steam rather than brown. Too large, big risk of overbrowning/burning. The sprouts, like any vegetable you roast, should be in an even layer with full contact to the roasting pan. A little bit of fat is absolutely essential to get the sugars sizzling and browning. I prefer olive oil to butter because of its higher smoke point. With butter you run the risk of burning. If you like the buttery flavor, stir a bit in at the end when removing from the oven.

Speaking of additions to the sprouts, they’re limitless and yummy (see below). As far as oven temperature, you can go HOT, 425 – 450 F, in the beginning to get things started then reduce the heat to 350-375F, or you can keep it steady at around 400 F, stirring here and there as they cook for about 25 minutes. If you notice overbrowning, simply reduce the oven temperature slightly and tent loosely with foil the way you would a chicken or turkey as it finishes cooking.

Those who say, “If it tastes good, it can’t be good for you,” never met a Brussels sprout. A member of the cruciferous family (kale, cabbage, kohlrabi, broccoli, cauliflower, etc.), it not only has that yin-yang of sweet and slightly bitter like its cousins, but it also contains all those 10-syllable phytochemicals that ward off carcinogens, positively affect hormones, reduce blood cholesterol, and bolster our immune systems. They’re also a very good source of many essential vitamins, including vitamin C and folate, as well as fiber. One cooked cup of Brussels sprouts offers all of this with only 55 calories.

Laura Pensiero, a registered dietician, is founder and creative force behind Gigi Hudson Valley, which operates the award-winning Gigi Trattoria in Rhinebeck plus a catering business. She is author of Hudson Valley Mediterranean cookbook.

What to add to Brussels sprouts

Bacon (pork or turkey) or pancetta
Roasted chestnuts

Pomegranate seeds

Caramelized onions or shallots
Pumpkin seeds
Toasted almond slivers, walnut halves or pecans
Other vegetables great for roasting (i.e. butternut squash, mushrooms, potatoes, sweet potatoes, cauliflower, and so on)

A dash of maple syrup or honey (at the end of cooking – put in too early, it’ll burn)
A bit of grated citrus zest (after cooking)
A dash of cayenne to lift and balance those sweet flavors
A dash of smoked paprika (for that smoky flavor without the bacon)

Roasted Maple Brussels Sprouts with Pancetta and Chestnuts

Makes 6 to 8 servings

This oven caramelized version has all that’s hard to resist: a hint of sweet and spice from maple syrup and cayenne, slightly bitter Brussels sprouts, earthy chestnuts and BACON!  Italian bacon that is. It’s an easy side, which can be made in advance, and offers a colorful and delicious preparation for the holiday table or for autumn and winter meals.

1 tablespoon olive oil

4 ounces pancetta (optional), diced

2 cups fresh roasted chestnuts* (approximately ¾ pound in shell)

2 pounds Brussels sprouts, ends trimmed and halved (quartered if large)

Salt and pepper

¼ cup warm water

2 tablespoons pure maple syrup

Pinch cayenne

*Substitute peeled, frozen chestnuts if desired.

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.

Roasting efficiently removes the shell and richens the flavor of chestnuts. Using knife tip, cut small “X”  on the flat side of outer shell, then spread on baking pan. Roast for 10 to 15 minutes; you will see the skin curling away and the chestnut taking on a golden color. Remove from oven and let cool slightly. The shells can easily be removed. Set aside chestnuts.

Reduce oven to 400 F.

Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a large (3-4 quart) sauté pan or skillet over medium-high heat. Add pancetta and cook, stirring often, until pancetta renders its fat and is lightly browned. Add chestnuts, toss or stir to combine, then cook about 1 minute. Add Brussels sprouts and cook, tossing or stirring, about 2 minutes. Transfer vegetables to large rimmed baking pan or roasting pan; they should spread out in one layer. Season with salt and pepper, and roast in upper third of oven, stirring once halfway through roasting, until vegetables are golden and tender, 25 to 30 minutes.  Use the tip of a sharp paring knife to test the doneness at the base of a Brussels sprout; it should insert easily.  In a small bowl or cup, stir together the water, maple syrup and cayenne. Pour the mixture into the hot baking sheet, using a wooden spoon to dissolve any browned bits.  Return pan to oven and cook another 5 minutes.  Serve hot or warm family-style in festive bowl.

Talking Turkey… with wine

cranbbery relish_1

 

 

 

 

 

By Laura Pensiero, RD

I recently polled both foodie and non-foodie Gigi customers and friends to see what wines they will be enjoying at their Thanksgiving table. While some stuck with their favorite style of wine (let’s say a BIG red like Barbaresco, or a New World Cabernet Sauvignon, or a crisp Pinot Grigio or Sancerre, or a heavily oaked California Chardonnay), many actually put the turkey first!

Ask just about any wine expert and they’ll go right to Pinot Noir–with its low tannins and bright berry palate, it complements but does not overpower the turkey or the traditional hearty sides that accompany.

Another thing aficionados tend to agree on is that–red or white–the wine must have a certain element of fruitiness. But don’t mistake this for sweet. While a little residual sugar can play nicely with both the sweet and savory flavors on the table, an all out sweet wine will drown them out just a an overly dry one will land flat against the panoply of tastes on the table.

It’s quite unlikely that a single wine will carry you from appetizers to pumpkin pie, so let’s start from the beginning.  Slightly salty nibbles or even crudité before the main event can pair well with Prosecco, Cava, or crisper lighter whites with a little bit of minerality like Pinot Grigio, Sancerre, Tocai, or even Falenghina, one of my favorite Italian whites. If you have any rosés left from the summer months, now might be a good time to finish them off.

Moving to the dinner table, think of the range of flavors: white and dark turkey meat, buttery mashed potatoes, sweet yams, herbaceous stuffing, and tart cranberry relish. For reds, a bright Pinot Noir or a zippy Zinfandel or a Syrah can work nicely and liven up the flavors. The spice of the latter two will definitely not get lost with the fare on the table. Personally, I find Dolcetto d’Alba to be a very under-rated Italian red. With its soft roundness, nice balance of fruit, and firm but not overpowering structure, it’s my choice for the table. The general idea of pairing the red wine is to have fruit and enough heft without too many tannins. Overall goal? The flavors of the meal will be supported and enlivened, not overpowered.

A white wine pairing for the turkey feast should include a balance between acidity and some character of the wine that is able to stand up and shine through the meal.  A reasonably high acidity will help cut through the richness, and the wine must have some oomph to hold its own. I find the Thanksgiving meal presents a unique opportunity to have fun with some white wines that you may not normally select–Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, Gewurztraminer and Viognier can all work.

I asked David Bova, the ever-hospitable general manager and vice president of Millbrook Winery, how he handles this holiday harvest feast. He likes to provide his guests with a range of styles and flavors, encouraging people to try the variety of top-quality wines that Millbrook produces. While many of their collection go with Thanksgiving fare, David particularly points out the Proprietor’s Special Reserve Chardonnay and the 2012 Pebble Ridge Zinfandel, saying, “This Chardonnay has enough oak and acidity to hold up to the rich dishes and the dark meat of turkey. Its palate of yellow delicious apple, clover blossom, apricot, and honeysuckle present complex flavors that complement rather than disrupt Thanksgiving flavors.”

No matter your wine picks for this special harvest holiday, you can’t go wrong if you’re sharing food and vino with good friends and family!

Laura Pensiero, a registered dietician, is founder and creative force behind Gigi Hudson Valley, which operates the award-winning Gigi Trattoria in Rhinebeck and a catering business. She is author of Hudson Valley Mediterranean cookbook.

Millbrook Winery
26 Wing Rd, Millbrook, NY 12545

Phone:(845) 677-8383

www.millbrookwine.com

Citrus Cranberry Sauce

People often say cranberry sauce is the trickiest part of wine pairings on the Thanksgiving table. Like a wine with good acidity, the cranberry sauce can break through and refresh the palate between bites of the buttery potatoes and succulent turkey. This easy-to-prepare relish has just the right contrast of sweet and tart flavors. It is the perfect side to all poultry and can replace the mayonnaise on turkey or chicken breast sandwiches.

10 Servings

2 shallots, peeled and minced

2 tablespoons butter

12 ounces fresh cranberries

½ cup packed brown sugar

¼ cup pure maple syrup

1 cup fresh orange juice

pinch cayenne

grated zest of 1 orange

grated zest of 1 lime

In a medium saucepan, sauté shallots over medium heat, stirring often, until softened but not browned, about 4 minutes. Add cranberries, brown sugar, maple syrup, orange juice, and cayenne. Bring to a boil, then lower to a simmer, cover, and cook until cranberries burst open and soften, about 8 to 10 minutes. Stir in orange and lime zest. Let sauce cool and refrigerate.

A spot of health on an indulgent day:

  • Cranberries contain ellagic acid, a phytochemical that may help boost enzymes that rid the body of cancer-causing substances.
  • Cranberries also have a substantial amount of vitamin C–30% of the DV per serving (canned has about 75% less than fresh).
  • The peel or zest of citrus fruit contains limonene, a phytochemical that may help increase the production of cancer-fighting enzymes that get rid of carcinogens.