TODAY'S MAIN INGREDIENT - PODCAST
Brussels SproutsOctober 9, 2021
Today’s Main Ingredient is Brussels sprouts!
Our host Mikki Uzupes talks about the often hated, but delicious Brussels sprouts with local farmer Roger Hill of Treeline Farm in Dyberry Township. And chef Josh Tomson from The Lodge at Woodlock in Hawley PA shares how you too can prepare them to convince the most doubtful eaters. Nutritionist Carol Kneier shares the wide range of benefits from eating vitamin-packed Brussels sprouts.
Brussels sprouts are named for Brussels, the capital city of Belgium, where farmers first cultivated them from wild cabbage in the 16th century. Related to broccoli, cauliflower, kale, and kohlrabi, the Brussels sprout is a miniature cousin of the cabbage with similar compact green leaves that form a firm head; these heads shoot out from a tall, thick stem topped by leaves that shade the sprouts beneath.
Brussels sprouts are a biennial plant; their natural growing cycle is 2 years. A cool-season crop that produces best when grown for a fall or early winter harvest, sprouts improve in flavor after a light frost or two. Commercially, most Brussels sprouts are grown in the mild California climate where they don’t benefit from the freeze that makes them the tender and sweet vegetable they can be.
Brussels sprouts are not the easiest to grow, requiring not only cool temperatures but also the right soil, regular watering during the heat of summer. They have a fairly long growing season (80–100 days to harvest).
Select a site with full sun. Soil should be well-drained but moist, with a pH of about 6.2 to 6.8. Raised beds work well for cool-season vegetables especially in spring and fall when temperatures are not consistent. Rotate brassicas; avoid planting in the same spot where other members of the cabbage family have been grown the previous year.
Consider planting a heat-resistant variety. If grown in hot, dry conditions, Brussels sprouts can take on a bitter flavor.
If starting indoors:
Seeds are frequently started indoors. Then, in early- to mid-summer—about 80 to 100 days before the first fall frost—transplant seedlings outdoors 12 to 24 inches apart in rows 3 feet apart. Water well at time of transplanting.
If planting directly outdoors:
Add an extra 20 days earlier than you would if you were starting them indoors for later transplanting. Work several inches of aged manure and/or compost into the soil a few days before sowing or transplanting. Sow seeds about 1/2-inch deep and 2 to 3 inches apart.
Using a starter solution will help to establish the plants more quickly. You can purchase a starter solution or make your own by using a 5-10-10 fertilizer and mixing it with 12 quarts of water and letting it sit for a few hours before using. Add about a cup of solution around the roots prior to covering.
• When plants reach 6 inches tall, thin them to 18 to 24 inches apart.
• Brussels sprouts require a large amount of nitrogen to grow well. Do a soil test, and add amendments based on test results. Fertilize with a nitrogen-rich product after thinning, and repeat every 3 to 4 weeks by placing 1 Tablespoon dry fertilizer 3 inches from the base of the plant.
• Consider using row covers to protect young plants from pests. Brussels sprouts are usually planted outdoors right when pests are at their worst.
• Keep plants well-watered in hot weather; mulch to retain moisture and keep the soil temperature cool through summer. Inconsistent moisture can lead to inferior sprout development. Brussels sprouts should receive about 1 to 1 1/2 inches of water per square foot per week.
• Brussels sprout plants usually reach heights of 2 to 4 feet, so plan accordingly; they may require staking.
• Remove yellowing leaves at the bottom of the plant to allow for more sunlight on the stalk and to focus plant energy on growth.
• To force sprout production in the fall, remove the top 3 inches of the stalk 2 to 3 weeks before your average first-frost date. See
However, if you plan to harvest sprouts during the winter, leave the top leaves of the plant intact; they provide protection from snow.
• Cover plants with 10 to 12 inches of mulch if you plan to harvest into the winter.
• Sprouts mature from the bottom of the stalk upward, so harvest from the bottom when they reach about 1 inch in diameter. First, break the leaf directly below the sprout you want to pick, and then twist the sprout off the stem.
• You can begin to harvest as early as when the lower leaves begin to turn yellow. However, waiting until after your first frost improves their flavor and sweetness. You can even pick sprouts when there’s snow on the ground.
• If desired, after a moderate frost, remove the leaves and pull up the entire stalk, roots and all. Then hang the stalk upside down in a cool, dry basement, garage, or barn.
• Store sprouts on their stalks (without their roots) for about 1 month in a root cellar.
Brussels sprouts (after removed from the stalk) can be refrigerated in a plastic bag in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks or store at 32°F with high humidity (around 95%) for several months. Do not wash sprouts before storing them.
Unlike its cousin, cabbage, Brussels sprouts are rarely eaten raw. They are usually boiled, steamed, roasted, or are cut into halves or quarters and then sautéed or stir-fried. They can also be shredded and sautéed. As with broccoli, do not overcook (except when roasting, where the char adds great favor).
Like other vegetables, smaller younger Brussels sprouts generally have a milder, sweeter flavor. Mature sprouts often have a strong flavor and usually demand bolder seasonings, or can be tempered with cream or milk sauces, or cooked with pancetta or bacon. However, when freshly harvested, young and tender sprouts require only to be boiled or steamed and served with butter and salt.
Soak them in cold water for 15 minutes before cooking. Cook sprouts until they have a good green color and are nearly tender. 1 pound makes 4 to 6 side servings.
Start by trimming the sprouts. Use a paring knife to cut a thin slice from the end that was attached to the stem, and pull away any withered or yellowed outer leaves. Then give them a good rinse and drain.
A traditional way to prepare whole sprouts for cooking is to cut an “X” about 1/4-inch deep in the stem end of each one on the theory that this will conduct the heat more quickly to the center of the sprout, helping the dense core cook more evenly. However, most modern cooks skip this step altogether, with no apparent adverse consequences. Also this step is unnecessary
if you’re cutting the sprout in half or quarters.
Good Partners for Brussels Sprouts
• Butter & brown butter, olive oil
• Cream, bechamel sauce, cheddar or blue cheese
• Mustard, capers, garlic, lemon, vinegar
• Caraway, oregano, parsley, dill, curry spices, juniper (See How to Cook Food Flavored with Juniper Berries | thespruceeats.com)
• Crisp pieces of bacon; pancetta, roasted chestnuts or chopped walnuts
3 Tablespoons unsalted butter
2 clove garlic, peeled and sliced paper thin
1 Tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 1/2 pounds Brussels sprouts
Salt and pepper
Step 1 – Combine butter and garlic in a small saucepan over medium heat. When the garlic begins to turn golden, remove it and discard. Stir in lemon juice and keep warm over low heat.
Step 2 – Trim the stem end and discard any yellow leaves. Place sprouts in a steamer basket over at least 1 inch of boiling water and cook until they are just tender, but not soft or mushy, 8 to 10 minutes.
Step 3 – Transfer sprouts to a serving bowl, and pour the prepared butter over them, and then toss to coat. Season with salt & pepper and serve.
Variation: Try this America’s Test Kitchen recipe for making Brown Butter, as a substitute for Step 1: Super Quick Video Tips: How to Make Browned Butter | youtube.com
2 cups Brussels sprouts
1 Tablespoon olive oil
1 garlic clove, chopped
2 Tablespoons white wine or vermouth (or vegetable broth)
1 1/2 Tablespoons lemon juice
1 Tablespoon chopped fresh oregano
Salt and pepper
Step 1 – Cut the Brussels sprouts in half vertically, then coarsely chop them, or alternatively, shred them very thinly.
Step 2 – Heat olive oil for 1 minute over medium-high heat in a large skillet. Add the sprouts and garlic, then sauté until the sprouts begin to char, 2 to 3 minutes.
Step 3 – Turn heat to medium low. Add wine and lemon juice and partially cover. Cook until sprouts are tender but not soft, about 3 minutes.
Step 4 – Add oregano and cook for 30 seconds. Add salt & pepper to taste. Serve hot or warm.
8 ounces bacon, chopped
1 1/2 pounds Brussels sprouts, outer leaves removed and cut in half lengthwise
1 Tablespoon olive oil
Salt and pepper
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
Preheat oven to 400°F.
Step 1 – Add chopped bacon pieces to baking sheet and bake for about 15 minutes, stirring once or twice, until crispy. Remove to paper towels to drain.
Step 2 – While bacon is cooking, toss Brussels sprouts in olive oil and salt and pepper to taste. Add Brussels sprouts to the baking sheet and cook for 30-40 additional minutes until the sprouts are golden brown, and even a little charred.
Step 3 – While sprouts are cooking, heat balsamic vinegar in small saucepan over medium heat until reduced by half.
Step 4 – When sprouts are done, remove from oven and toss with cooked bacon and reduced balsamic glaze. Serve hot.
Variation: Add a handful of roughly chopped nuts (e.g. walnuts or pecans) with Brussels sprouts in Step 2.
2 cups (10 ounces) Brussels sprouts
1/4-pound bacon (or pancetta), cut into 1/4-inch pieces
3 medium leeks, trimmed, washed well, and thinly sliced (white to light green parts only)
1/2 cup ricotta blended with 2 Tablespoons sour cream
3/4 cup heavy cream
2 Tablespoons Parmesan cheese, freshly grated
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1 cup coarsely shredded Emmentaler, Gruyere or other Swiss-style cheese
A 9-inch unbaked, deep-dish pie shell
Preheat oven to 400°F
Step 1 – Boil the Brussels sprouts, covered, in a large pot of lightly salted water until crisp-tender, 15 to 20 minutes.
Step 2 – Drain sprouts well, return to the pot, and shake briskly over the heat for 1 to 2 minutes to drive off excess moisture. Then set sprouts aside to cool.
Step 3 – Sauté the bacon in a heavy 12-inch skillet over moderately low heat for 15 minutes, stirring often, until all the drippings cook out and only crisp, brown bits remain; transfer to paper towels to drain.
Step 4 – Add the leeks to the pan drippings and sauté about 5 minutes, until limp and lightly browned.
Step 5 – Slice sprouts 1/4–inch thick, then add to the skillet and toss lightly to mix. Transfer mixture to a large mixing bowl.
Step 6 – In a separate bowl whisk the ricotta/sour cream blend, heavy cream, Parmesan, nutmeg, salt & pepper and eggs until creamy.
Step 7 – Add the egg mixture to the large bowl, plus add the bacon and the shredded cheese. Mix well.
Step 8 – Set the pie shell on a heavy-duty baking sheet and pour in the quiche mixture. Bake uncovered, for 10 minutes at 400°F, and then turn down the oven temperature to 325°F and bake 30 to 35 minutes longer, until lightly browned and set like custard.
Step 9 – Remove from oven and cool for 45 minutes before cutting. Serve cut into wedges.
Today's Main Ingredient is sponsored in part by:
Thanks also to Fertile Valley and Wolfe Spring Farms for their sponsorship of the BoldGold radio station broadcasts.
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