Produce at Its Peak: Brussels Sprouts

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For the most part, even a light frost signals the end of the growing season across the north. But for many members of the brassicaceae family (Brussels sprouts, kale, cabbage, collard greens), cooler temperatures trigger a survival response that enables them, to not only survive, but improve with hard frosts. As temperatures plummet, these plants sweeten, as starches are converted to sugars as a form of anti-freeze.

Unlike local kales and cabbages, which have grown sweeter as the seasons progress from summer to fall, local Brussels sprouts reappeared a little over a month ago and are truly a seasonal treat both in timing and flavor. A slow-growing crop, Brussels sprouts are started in the spring but aren’t harvested until the late fall, ideally after a transformative frost. We source organic Brussels sprouts from the Thimmesch Farm (La Farge, Wis.), Keewaydin Farm (Viola, Wis.), and Wisconsin Growers Cooperative (Mondovi, Wis.) and receive fresh deliveries up to four days a week.

Select small, bright green sprouts with tightly compact heads. Store in an uncovered bowl in the fridge for a few weeks or longer. The outer leaves may wilt with time but they can be removed just before cooking.

Brussels sprouts may be prepared whole, halved, quartered, chopped, or pulled apart leaf by leaf for salads or tossed in oil and baked for a variation on a kale chip. If cooking whole, be sure to score the base with an ‘x’ to allow the heat to penetrate the core for more even cooking. In their prime, Brussels sprouts are delicious very simply seasoned withbutter or olive oil, lemon juice, salt and roasted in the oven until browned and tender.

I also love a sweet late season Brussel sprouts salad with a warm vinaigrette.

5 Tbsp. white wine vinegar

1 Tbsp. grainy mustard

1 Tsp. sugar

1 small shallot finely sliced

¼ cup lardons

¼ walnuts

1 lb. Brussels sprouts finely sliced

½ cup loosely packed arugula

Shaved Pecorino Romano

Salt and pepper

Warm the vinegar, mustard, and sugar in a small saucepan. Season with salt and pepper. When the sugar has dissolved, pour the mixture into a small bowl with the sliced shallot. Let sit for 10-15 minutes.

In a skillet, brown the lardons then remove from the skillet with a slotted spoon. To the same skillet, add the chopped walnuts and cook also until slightly browned. Remove from heat and add the shallot mixture and a pound of thinly sliced Brussels sprouts. Toss until the sprouts are well coated. Transfer to a bowl, mix in the arugula, thinly shaved Pecorino, and the reserved lardons. Season with salt and pepper to taste.