Like any good love affair, I had a head-over-heels encounter when I least expected it several years ago, over a candlelit dinner.
The object of my affection? Brussels sprouts.
Although Brussels sprouts weren’t entirely foreign to me, I had somehow managed to mature into my 40s without making their acquaintance. Growing up in Iowa, I consumed my weight in bushels of sweet corn, Pyrex dishes of Durkee onion-topped green bean casserole and stuffed pork chops—a pleasant (if not exciting) and sturdy Midwest sort of diet. Mom was a good cook but didn’t venture much beyond the tattered and splattered recipes in her collection, all of which were neatly written on index cards in her perfect cursive and called for lots of margarine and canned soups as primary ingredients. Brussels sprouts weren’t part of her culinary point-of-view and they were probably not in the neighborhood grocery’s produce department either, but perhaps sandwiched between the broccoli and cauliflower in frozen foods.
I discovered the earthy vegetable by accident at Kansas City’s sexy-cozy Pizza Bella in 2007. Not exactly a classic pairing with a pie, roasted Brussels sprouts are offered as an eclectic appetizer on the locally owned pizzeria’s menu. The dish created a buzz in food circles around town, just as the Brussels sprouts craze was lifting off on the national cuisine landscape.
Intrigued and curious, I ordered up a heaping mound of Pizza Bella’s crispy Brussels sprouts tossed in pancetta vinaigrette, almonds and pecorino Romano along with a potato-gorgonzola-radicchio-balsamic pizza. Expectations? I had none since I was a newcomer to the mini cabbage-like veggie.
My personal Brussels sprouts discovery was before the advent of text messaging, instant message or e-mail-inspired lingo, so my reaction to the dish would have been translated today simply as “OMG.”
Brussels sprouts are now a regular part of my weekly lineup—they’re versatile and can be dressed up for company or come to the table casual. And they’re a wonderful addition to a holiday menu—along with citrus-glazed grilled or smoked turkey, honey-baked ham or tenderloin and mashed sweet potatoes and Parker House rolls—Brussels sprouts have a spark of personality to capture anyone’s attention—and affection.
Rock on, Brussels sprouts. BFF.
-Kimberly Winter Stern