Brussels sprouts unfairly suffer from a reputation as an insipid, somewhat soggy side dish with a faintly unpleasant aroma. Inevitably, overcooking is the culprit. For a sweet, nutty version, choose sprouts in season, typically from October through March, with tightly packed leaves and still on the stalk if possible. Then cook them sparingly.
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For a nutty, crisp twist on sprouts, wash them thoroughly and remove any browned leaves, as well as the root. Heat an oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit, cut the sprouts into halves, and toss them in olive oil, sea salt and ground pepper. Arrange the sprouts cut sides-down on a baking tray and roast for 45 minutes until the outer leaves are brown and crisp. The insides, however, will be tender and sweet. For an extra boost of flavor, add rosemary, pine nuts or grated Parmesan cheese for the last five minutes.
Sauteing sprouts quickly in olive oil renders a sweet and tender dish reminiscent of shredded cabbage. Ideally, pair them with bacon and onions to add an enticing aroma and a pleasing mouthfeel. First, parboil quartered sprouts in boiling water for five minutes to tenderize them while you fry bacon in a skillet until crisp. Remove the crisp bacon from the pan, set it aside, then sauté an onion in the bacon grease until golden. Add the sprouts, and sauté them for three minutes, tossing regularly. Add the bacon, increase the heat slightly and finish with a dash of lemon juice for a little zip. The secret to maintaining crunchiness is not to overcrowd the pan, or the sprouts will steam rather than fry.
Cut the larger sprouts into halves and leave the smaller ones intact. Although some cooks cut crosses into the stalk to even out cooking times, the step is more aesthetic than practical. Immerse the sprouts fully in a pan of salted boiling water, cover them, and simmer for about five minutes, depending on size. The sprouts should be just tender enough to pierce with a knife. Before serving, toss them with olive oil, lemon juice and salt.
For tender sprouts imbued with flavor, braise them with bacon and aromatics and dress the dish with sweet or sour flavors. Start off by sauteing some bacon and shallots in a lightly oiled skillet until crisp, then toss in quartered raw sprouts and cook them until crisp. Add a cup of water and half as much vinegar, simmering until the liquid evaporates and the sprouts turn soft. Alternatively, add a bottle of clear pilsner or lager and simmer for 15 minutes until the liquid reduces to a glaze, or cook the sprouts to crisp-tender then drizzle them with maple syrup and mustard, stirring to mix the sauce and removing the pan from the heat once the sauce starts to coagulate.