Eek of the Week, Romanesco division, and Leafy Brussels Sprouts with Chestnuts
For such terrific vegetable, Romanesco cauliflower is still far too rare, but it does seem to be headed in the right direction. After years of finding it only at farmstands, I saw it last month – more than once – at my favorite greengrocer. Gladdened my foodie little heart, even if it cost $3.50 a head and came so heavily swathed in plastic it looked a bit like King Tut.
So far, so good. But then just the other day I saw a basket of miniature Romanescos, heads about 3 inches tall, weighing perhaps 2 ounces, being sold for $4.00 each. This was in Manhattan, at Dean and DeLuca furthermore, but I think the sighting remains Eek worthy because those pricy little units were too big to be served beautifully whole and too wilted to be used in a massive flower arrangement which otherwise might have been way cool.
I will refrain from pious remarks about food stamps, but it does seem as though if you’re paying that much you ought to get value for money – even if it’s just snob value. Of course I didn’t buy any, so may be doing them an injustice. Maybe they have a different taste from full size Romanescos, the way Brussels Sprouts have virtues unknown to cabbages. And thus we pass to a happier topic,
Classic Brussels Sprouts with Chestnuts is a riff on subtle contrasts. The dense round sprouts and the dense round nuts offer different sorts of sweetness; also they look nifty rolling around, eluding your fork.
Heavy, though. No matter how carefully you avoid overcooking the sprouts, there’s a somewhat stodgy quality. And the difference in texture isn’t as sharp as might be nice.
Enter the new wave. By crisping the outside of the soft nuts and making the sprouts into a leaf vegetable you get a much sprightlier effect without sacrificing the flavor that makes this combo such a winner.
Leafy Brussels Sprouts with Chestnuts
For 4 servings:
1 generous cup steamed or boiled chestnuts or cooked dried chestnuts
1 1/4 pounds Brussels Sprouts; get a few more if they’re going to need a lot of trimming to start
2-3 tbl. olive oil
shredded zest of a large lemon
2 tbl. chopped garlic
1. Spread the chestnuts on a rack and let them sit 15 minutes or so to dry off the surfaces. Separate the sprouts into leaves: working from the bottom, cut the stem flush, then cut out the core in a wide cone. Pull the leaves apart until you get to a marble sized ball of folds, then slice that in half. It’s not instant but it doesn’t take as long as it sounds, and it’s perfect if you have one of those guests who is unhappy not helping.
2. Pour enough oil into a wide saute pan or skillet to form a generous layer – more than a slick but too thin to stick a ruler in. Put it over medium heat until it’s almost shimmering. Add the chestnuts in a single layer, spreading them out so there’s room between. Cook, turning gently from time to time with a flat spatula, until the outsides are browned and crisp. Remove and reserve.
3. Sprinkle in the lemon zest and let it sizzle a minute, then add the garlic. Keep cooking and stir-scraping with the spatula until the garlic starts to turn gold. Dump in the prepared sprouts and about 1/4 cup water, stir well , turn the heat to medium high and cover the pan. Cook, stirring every minute or so, for 3 or 4 minutes, then uncover, lower heat slightly and continue cooking until the greenery is al dente and there’s no free liquid in the pan. Salt to taste, stir in the reserved chestnuts and serve. (You can do everything in advance up to adding the chestnuts; just stop right after the sprouts are heated through so they don’t overcook later.)