I have a special fondness for the winter market.
Oh, sure, I have to bundle up, wear a woolen cap and good gloves, and by the time I lock my bike to the street sign I’ve claimed as mine, few of my fingers are available for immediate use. But when I get to my favorite produce stall and the vendors greet me, their jolly smiles clearly say, “thanks for braving the cold!” and I always feel humble imagining what it must be like for them, who have loaded the truck long before dawn and will be standing on the drafty sidewalk for a few more hours.
And that is essentially what I was thinking on Saturday morning, waiting in line, tapping my feet, and politely declining the orange segment I was offered to sample — I find the taste of citrus repulsive when I’ve just brushed my teeth –, when I spotted the crate of brussels sprouts.
Pistachio green, tightly furled, and no larger than the big marbles French kids call calots, they fit the ideal profile perfectly. When you’re shopping for brussels sprouts, this is the kind you should look for: the smaller the better, firm, fresh-looking, and roughly all the same size so they’ll cook evenly.
Like most lovers of brussels sprouts, I am a late-blooming one. As a child, I was subjected to the vile boiled stuff on occasion, at school or at summer camp (as if I wasn’t miserable enough as it was), but when I started to cook, I quickly surmised that there was more to them than that.
And certainly, there is, provided they are cooked to your taste. The trick for me is twofold: 1- to sear or bake them so they’re cooked through and browned in places, but not at all mushy, and 2- to pair them with something sweet, something smoky, and/or something crunchy, to defuse any bitter tendency.
This recipe is a fine example of that trick: softened onions, smoked paprika, and toasted squash seeds help cast a flattering light on these much-defamed, miniature cabbages. We had them as a side to the cured filets of duck my butcher prepares and sells, and which are the most tender and flavorsome I’ve ever had.
Brussels Sprouts with Onions and Squash Seeds
– 600 grams (1 1/3 pounds) brussels sprouts, small ones with leaves tightly closed
– a good gurgle of olive oil
– 200 grams (7 ounces) onions, peeled and minced
– Spanish smoked paprika (I used the spicy kind), a.k.a. pimentón de la Vera (substitute ground chili pepper)
– 2 tablespoons squash seeds, toasted (pistachios would also be good)
Serves 3 to 4.
Rinse the brussels sprouts and drain well. Using a sharp paring knife, trim the stem of each sprout if it doesn’t look freshly cut, and cut into the stem to make an X-shaped indentation, without cutting all the way through: you still want each sprout to keep its mini-cabbage shape, but the indentation will help the tougher stem part cook faster, and seem more tender when you bite into it. (If the sprouts are very small, a single cut, rather than two crosswise cuts, will do.)
Heat the oil in a wide skillet or a cocotte over medium heat. Add the onions and cook for a few minutes, stirring regularly, until they start to relax. Add the brussels sprouts, salt, and smoked paprika, and stir to combine. Cover and cook for 5 minutes or so, until just tender; you’ll have to taste one to check the doneness. Adjust the seasoning, remove the lid, turn the heat up, and cook a couple more minutes, until slightly browned.
Transfer to a serving bowl, sprinkle with squash seeds, and serve immediately.