Little sulphuric orbs that stand for anything and all that may be anti-climatic about Christmas with the family. Brussels sprouts, having only made their way to Britain and Ireland in the early nineteenth century, promptly forced their way on to the Christmas table - as a 'traditional' accompaniment to roast turkey and ham. With the multiple commitments in and outside a Christmas Day kitchen word of mouth suggests that they are often not given the love what they may deserve. Boiled to mush instead and served with a hunk of butter and a "wouldn't be Christmas with out 'em". Quite. Sometimes bad is beautiful. Most of the time though, and sprouts have a long season (from first frost through to spring) as the intensely sweet, nutty staple of these lands that they are, they deserve at least more attention than does pizza, pasta or any of the many bastardised imports.
Sprouts, almonds and rosemary
Some sort of equivalent to the Italian antipasti this - best eaten before a meal proper, with a cold drink and some fingers.
Smaller sprouts near the top of the stem are ideal here. Blanch them in salted boiling water for a couple of minutes, and shock them under a cold tap, then let them dry. Bake some skinless almonds in a medium oven for ten to 15 minutes - until they begin to tan and start to release their milk and honey aromas.
When you're about ready to eat heat a little oil in a pan - just enough to thinly cover the surface. Fry the sprouts whole until they begin to brown and crisp. Then turn the heat down a little and add a generous amount of butter (kerry gold being quite ideal for this sort of thing because its high water content means its relatively reluctant to burn). When the butter is foaming throw in some roughly chopped rosemary. Tilting the pan slightly, spoon the fat from the edge of the pan onto the sprouts for a wee while. Pop in your almonds and keeping the pan moving frying everything for another minute or two, until the butter is golden. Then squeeze in a little lemon juice to temper all that richness, give the pan a shake as the juice fizzes in the fat. Tip it all straight on to a hot board or plate and to the table.
Burnt sprouts and yogurt
First make a vinaigrette. Whisk some rapeseed oil into cider vinegar with a stalk of rosemary or two in the mix. Season with salt, taste and adjust making sure that the vinegar has a voice.
Blanch the sprouts - smaller the better - for a few minutes, until they're amicably resistant, drain and shock them in cold running water. Let them dry on a tea towel until ready to use.
Heat a pan - one that will fit the sprouts on one layer and preferably not a non stick - until it begins to smoke. Add enough groundnut oil to cover, wait a couple of moments then throw in the sprouts while trying to keep out of the way of the angry oil. Leave them for a minute or two, until they've started to blacken, then give the pan a shake to turn them. After a short while, with the occasional shake of the pan, they should be largely blackened, add a nugget of butter. Shake the pan around so the sprouts are basted all over with the blistering golden butter. Pour the sprouts onto paper towels and season generously with flaky sea salt.
Smear some yogurt (make sure its room temperature) on to a warm plate, with some of dressing and finally the sprouts while warm.
Sprouts, squash, walnuts and lovage
Make a puree from some sweet squash. Peel, cut into chunks and steam (or else boil) until completely tender. Mash with some butter and season with salt and pepper.
Next make some potato dumplings. Boil and mash some spuds, when cool, mix through half the potatoes' volume in flour, an egg (or two if it's a big batch) and salt. Roughly form dumplings with floury hands and leave on a floured surface until ready to use.
Cut some of the stem off the sprouts. Take off the leaves until you get to some sort of a core in which they won't easily budge.
Braise the sprouts' cores, with some sweet vinegar, a little water and some salt and butter, until tender.
Perk up the walnuts with a short bake in a medium oven and when they've cooled give them a once-over rough chop.
When it's almost time to eat, boil the dumpling in salty water. While they're at it, sear the sprout leaves in fiercely hot olive oil, seasoning them as you do. After a couple of tosses of the pan, when they're a crisp golden and black in parts, tender and juicy in others, tip them on to some kitchen paper. When the dumplings bop up to the surface of the water give them another minute.
On a hot plate smear some mashed squash, pop on some just boiled dumplings, then the sprout cores, then scatter the leaves, some walnuts, some lovage, a drizzle of the rich sweet braising liquor of the sprout leaves.
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