Dec08

Good things to do with sprouts

Take a handful of Brussels sprouts...

Take a handful of Brussels sprouts...

On a misery scale this evening was rating pretty high: TGC has returned to India to earn his share of the family crust; I’ve been trying to get myself together to fulfil some nice cookery commissions and can’t even find where I’ve filed the recipes; I have a persistent hacking cough; Tipu needs energetic companionship and I haven’t the puff for playing hide and seek up and down the stairs; and it’s still raining. Then something told me to heave Hell’s Own Pussycat off my lap, remove myself from the beastly screen and make myself some supper.

More misery. The nourishing chicken left over from the Invalid’s Soup that I made for a sad friend had died of neglect at the back of the fridge. Tipu’s and HOP’s gain but what was I going to eat? Ha! There was a bag of good sprouts from Balham market, a small box of pancetta, some salad spinach and two mince pies left over from a batch I made for the local deli. So I walloped the mince pies while thinking about sprouts. Always have pudding first if you want inspiration for a main dish – could this be my new lifestyle motto?

sprouts longing to be made into salad

sprouts longing to be made into salad

I actually like sprouts. I do realise that loads of people don’t, and I can only sympathise. Horrid childhood experiences on the sprout front can leave permanent scars. A Granny-in-law of mine used to put her sprouts on to cook right after breakfast and keep them bubbling away until lunchtime – she viewed undercooked vegetables in the same way as we might view, say, deadly nightshade or a strange snake on the dining table. Her flat smelt quite strongly and somehow we always managed to avoid staying for lunch.

My father grew sprouts, however, and at home they were treated with respect – crosses cut in the bases, boiled al dente and served with butter –  a perfectly acceptable solution. But they never engendered any great enthusiasm in me until several years ago some enlightened souls (Julian and Moggy, are you out there somewhere?) offered them to me in a salad: they sliced their very, very fresh sprouts thinly and added them to a bowl of lettuce leaves with a garlicky dressing. They added an unfamiliar but pleasant texture that was excellent. Since that day I’ve mixed raw sprout slices with toasted walnuts, sliced avocado, sliced ham or crispy bacon, spinach leaves, lettuce and grated cabbage and carrot; they’ll add a special new dimension to any combination. I am especially fond of dressing them with roughly two parts walnut oil to one of lemon juice, toned with sea salt and some fresh black pepper.

But salad wasn’t tonight’s solution. After the double dose of mince pie, my misery demanded pasta, so why not a sprouty one? Fusion food gone mad, I hear you shudder, but do give it a go, it’s really rather special. Here’s what you need:

Brussel sprout and pancetta spaghetti

Sprouts, pancetta, spinach and pine nuts in the pan

Sprouts, pancetta, spinach and pine nuts in the pan

Serves one, but you could multiply the quantities for more people

  • 100g spaghetti
  • 6 really fresh Brussels sprouts, finely sliced
  • 75g  pancetta, cubed
  • 1 fat clove garlic, finely sliced
  • Pinch chilli flakes
  • Handful baby spinach leaves, washed
  • 2 tbsp pine nuts
  • Freshly ground black pepper

Put the spaghetti into a pan of briskly boiling salted water and cook until al dente, about 12-15 minutes depending on the brand and your denti.

Meanwhile, fry the pancetta in a very small amount of olive oil for two or three minutes. Now stir in the sliced sprouts, garlic and chilli flakes, and stir fry until the sprouts take on a golden tinge. Put in the spinach and cook until it wilts, then finally add the pine nuts. Add a couple of grinds of pepper and remove from the heat.

A spirit-raising bowl of pasta

A spirit-raising bowl of pasta

Drain the pasta, pile the sprout mixture on top and enjoy. You could add cheese if you wanted; I didn’t. But I did feel a whole lot better at the end of it. I wish I’d had another glass of wine, though, but the bottle was finished. Too bad.

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