the unloved one


Brussels sprouts. Just the mention of this harmless vegetable can be enough to strike fear into the hearts of children, particularly those who have just asked the innocent question ‘what’s for dinner?’ I should know, a long time ago I used to be one of them.

My earliest memory of the dreaded sprout was of something that just tasted incredibly bad. I just couldn’t understand how my mother could possibly think that a food stuff that tasted like that could be something to get excited about, let alone be actually edible. Boiled balls of badness … eeweh.  For years I had a secret feeling that whenever Mum was cooking Brussels sprouts that we were in some way being punished.

Over the following years I was pretty successful in the Brussels sprouts dodge and managed to avoid them completely though out my boarding school and university days. It wasn’t until I was living in the north of England in the beautiful walled town of Chester that sprouts and I would again cross paths.

My first encounter was spying them at the local veggie shop. Displayed like a bouquet in bunches still attached to their stalk, I had to admit that they did look kinda cute. But definitely not cute enough to actually want to take some home for a whirl in the kitchen.  Fate had other ideas and a few short weeks later I found myself looking into a bowl of sprouts.

The occasion was Christmas lunch, my first away from home. It was all feeling very strange, cold and gloomy when there should have been sunshine and sweating. My old flatmate Angus-the-architect had been kind enough to convince his family in Bristol to adopt me for the holidays. Lunch was at his Aunt’s gorgeous rambling farm house just outside the city and while I don’t really remember much of the meal, the sprouts have been firmly etched in my memory.

Tempting as it was to sidestep my vegetable arch-enemy, something made me decide that I really should be polite and at least try them. How bad could it be? As it turned out not bad at all but actually tasty, delicious even. A revelation. Who would have thought? I remember being mighty impressed with the alchemy-like culinary prowess of my friend’s Aunt but left feeling that this was probably some sort of Christmas magic trick.

Thinking that the Christmas experience was a one off, I continued to dodge the sprout with ease. Not so long ago, after I had decided to rid myself of food dislikes (a work in progress dear reader) it was time to give Brussels sprouts another chance. But rather than boil them up as my mother used to do I decided to follow the lead of Sean Moran from one of my favourite Bondi restaurants, Sean’s Panaroma, and sauté them in oil with pancetta, garlic and sage.

The results were the beginnings of my latest food addiction**. Sweet tender sliced sprouts taking on a slightly nutty toasted flavour from the sautee pan complimented by the meaty punch of pancetta makes an ideal bed for a soft poached eggs – the perfect winter weekend lunch.

**note: A word of warning: so far my attempts to win others over to the delights of the sprout have not proved too successful. First was an ambitious attempt with a potential love interest in Melbourne. A confirmed Brussels sprouts hater (and Collingwood supporter – what was I thinking?), I’m not convinced he actually did try any. But we parted ways soon afterward and I thank the sprouts for making me see reason.

My second attempt when I was visiting my folks in the country did yield more positive results. My mum of course was a pushover. My snow bunny sister, Batgirl, did manage to say that they were edible but still tasted like Brussels sprouts so she wasn’t a fan. My darling brother failed to see any improvement from the horrors of our childhood so all up not the greatest uptake. But then that may not be such a bad thing – more sprouts for me.

sauteed brussels sprouts
serves 1
Inspired by spunky Sean Moran from his lovely book Let it Simmer.

This is one of those recipes that is really a base that you can build on and twist to your own preferences. For a vego option just drop the pancetta and toss though some toasted walnuts or almonds at the end or serve showered with freshly grated parmesan cheese. I really love how sage works with this dish but thyme or rosemary would also do the trick.

While it makes an excellent lunch combined with a poached egg, you could just as easily serve it as a side dish alongside roast meat, poultry or even a meaty fish like swordfish. If you’re in the mood for something a little more decadent, stir through some double cream at the end for a richer, saucier feel.

250g (1/2 lb) Brussels sprouts
2T olive oil
30g (1 oz) pancetta or smoked spec, chopped
2 large sprigs sage, leaves picked
2 cloves garlic, finely sliced
Squeeze of lemon juice
Poached egg, to serve

Trim the base of your sprouts and peel away the dark green outer leaves. You can either discard these or add them into the pan but they will add a stronger more cabbagey flavour so probably best to omit them on your first attempt. Take the trimmed sprouts and finely slice lengthwise into 4 or 5 slices.

Heat a small frying pan over a medium heat. Add oil and allow to warm for a few seconds before adding the pancetta. Cook for a minute or two and then add the trimmed sprouts, sage and garlic. Saute, stirring regularly for approx 10mins or until the sprouts are starting to soften and take on a golden colour. Season well and pile onto a plate. Squeeze over lemon juice to taste and serve topped with a poached egg.

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