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Seasonal pantry: Brussels sprouts best served sautéed, roasted

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There has been a lot of talk this fall about Brussels sprouts, with variations of certain recipes — Brussels sprouts gratin is the one I’ve seen most frequently — popping up all over social media. Many of these recipes suggest steaming or boiling the sprouts, techniques I don’t recommend because they tend to heighten flavors many of us, myself included, find objectionable. A sulphuric characteristic seems to blossom with both of these methods.

Growing up, I didn’t care for Brussels sprouts, which were either canned or frozen. Now I love them, but only if they are raw, sautéed or roasted.

The best Brussels sprouts are the ones still attached to their stalks. At this time of year, you can almost always find them at our farmers markets. Local grocery stores, such as Oliver’s Markets and Andy’s Produce, offer them, too.

One of the best ways to learn to enjoy this vegetable is time-consuming but worth it. It is something you can do while watching TV or sitting outside, weather permitting, and watching your neighborhood birds. (I like to scatter peanuts, still in their shells, for the local crows, then watch as they carefully scope out the situation to ensure it’s safe to snag a peanut or two.) Use a small paring knife to remove the little core of the sprout, just as you would cut out the large core of a cabbage. After you’ve taken out all the cores, hold a sprout between your thumb and forefinger and press gently to encourage the leaves to separate.

It is not difficult, but it does take time. It can be a mesmerizing process, too, especially if the crows cooperate. I love to watch them test how many peanuts they can carry and still be able to achieve lift off. They always seem a tad annoyed when they have to drop one.

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The secret to this salad is to slice the Brussels sprouts as thinly as possible. If you are not good with a knife (which should be very sharp), use the small slicing blade of a food processor or the slicing blade of a mandoline.

Because the sprouts are intensely flavored, Parmigiano-Reggiano is probably the best cheese to pair them with, though one of our local cheeses will work well, too.

Brussels Sprouts & Hazelnut Salad

Makes 4 to 6 servings

1 pound fresh Brussels sprouts, trimmed

— Kosher salt

2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice, plus more to taste

1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

2 tablespoons hazelnut oil or best-quality olive oil

— Black pepper in a mill

3 ounces grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, Vella Dry Jack or Estero Gold

3 tablespoons shelled hazelnuts, lightly toasted and chopped

Slice the Brussels sprouts as thinly as possible. The best way to do this is in a food processor fitted with its thinnest slicing blade. If you slice them on a mandoline be sure to use the guard so you don’t cut a finger.

Put the sliced sprouts into a bowl, sprinkle with salt and toss gently. Add 1 tablespoon lemon juice, toss again and set aside for about 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, put 1 tablespoon lemon juice and mustard in a small bowl, stir to blend and stir in the olive oil and several very generous turns of black pepper.

Pour the dressing over the Brussels sprouts and toss gently. Add the cheese and the hazelnuts, toss again and transfer to a serving dish.

Enjoy right away.

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Pancetta, bacon and butter flatter Brussels sprouts, highlighting their pleasing earthiness. When the leaves are separated, as they are in this recipe, they cook evenly and don’t develop one of the stronger flavors that many people find disagreeable.

Orecchiette with Brussels Sprouts, Pancetta & Mushrooms

Makes 4 servings

— Kosher salt

10 ounces orecchiette

— Olive oil

4 cups Brussels sprout leaves (see note below)

2 ounces pancetta or bacon, cut into small dice

1 shallot, minced

4 ounces specialty mushrooms, cleaned

1/2 cup heavy cream

— Salt and black pepper in a mill

Fill a large pot two-thirds full with water, season it with salt and bring to a boil over high heat. When the water boils, add the pasta, stir well and cook according to package directions, until just done.

Drain thoroughly but do not rinse. Tip the pasta into a wide serving bowl, toss with a generous splash of olive oil, cover and keep warm.

Meanwhile, if using pancetta, pour about 2 tablespoons of olive oil into a medium sauté pan set over medium heat, add the pancetta and cook until it loses its raw look. If using bacon, cook it until it is just barely crisp, then drain off all but 2 tablespoons of the bacon fat.

Add the shallot and mushrooms and sauté until soft and fragrant, about 6 to 7 minutes. Add the Brussels sprout leaves and sauté, turning and tossing constantly, until they are wilted and tender. Add the cream, reduce the heat to low, cover the pan and simmer 4 minutes.

Uncover, taste and season with salt and black pepper. Toss the mixture with the pasta, season generously with more black pepper and divide among pasta plates.

Enjoy right away.

Note: Cut the core out of each sprout and use your fingers to separate the leaves. You’ll need about 1 to 1 and 1/4 pounds to yield 4 cups of leaves.

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The first time I ever enjoyed Brussels sprouts was at a lovely little restaurant in Sebastopol in the early 1990s, Sapphire Mynx. One stormy night, this dish was on the menu. The manager, who had quickly become a good friend, urged me to try it. I did, mostly to please him, and I was so pleasantly surprised. The high temperature concentrates flavors and textures and the aioli contributes a delicious counterpoint to the earthiness of the sprouts.

Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Aioli

Makes 4 to 6 servings

— Aioli, recipe follows

11/4 pounds Brussels sprouts, preferably freshly cut from the stem

— Olive oil

— Kosher salt

— Black pepper in a mill

1/4 cup (2 ounces) finely grated hard cheese, such as Parmigiano-Reggiano or Vella Dry Jack

First, make the aioli. This can be done several hours or a day in advance.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Cut the Brussels sprouts in half, cutting through the poles, not the equator. Put the cut sprouts on a clean sheet pan, drizzle with a little olive oil and toss gently to be sure each sprout is coated. Season with salt and pepper.

Spread the sprouts across the sheet pan in a single layer. Set on the middle rack of the oven and cook for 10 minutes.

Use a thin metal spatula to turn the sprouts over. Cook for 10 more minutes and test for doneness.

The sprouts should be tender but not at all mushy, and the cut sides should be lightly browned. If they are not done yet, cook for 5 to 10 minutes more.

Transfer the Brussels sprouts to a serving bowl, add the grated cheese and serve right away, with aioli alongside.

Variation: Instead of aioli, serve these sprouts with mustard cream. Combine 1/2 cup creme fraiche with 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard and several turns of black pepper. Stir well, taste and add more mustard if you prefer a stronger sauce. If it seems a tad flat, stir in a generous pinch of salt.

Aioli

Makes about 3/4 cup

3-5 large garlic cloves, peeled and crushed

— Kosher salt

1 large egg yolk

2/3-3/4 cup best-quality extra virgin olive oil

1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice

— Pinch of cayenne

Put the garlic into a suribachi or other medium-sized mortar, sprinkle with salt and use a wood pestle to crush and grind it into a smooth, nearly liquid paste. Add the egg yolk and continue to mix until smooth and uniform.

Use a small rubber spatula to scrape off any egg yolk mixture that clings to the pestle and set the pestle aside. Using a sturdy balloon whisk, begin to add olive oil a few drops at a time, whisking thoroughly after each addition.

Gradually increase the amount of oil to about a teaspoon and continue mixing until oil stops going into the emulsion. Exactly how much oil this takes will be determined by the size of the egg yolk.

At this point, the aioli should be quite stiff.

Taste for saltiness. If it is a bit bland, add a few sprinkles of salt along with the cayenne in one spot, and drizzle the lemon juice over it so it dissolves.

Whisk thoroughly to distribute evenly. Transfer to a small bowl, cover and refrigerate until the day you plan to use it. As the aioli rests, the heat of the garlic will settle down and the sauce will be balanced.

Michele Anna Jordan is the author of 24 books to date, include “The Good Cook’s Book of Mustard.” Email her at michele@micheleannajordan.com.

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