Learning to Embrace Brussels Sprouts

If you grew up in the Midwest, I am quite sure you dreaded coming home for Sunday lunch after Church.  Invariably, you were “treated” to the vegetable specials of overcooked Brussels sprouts and canned green beans.    I still know people who enjoy eating food prepared this way, but we are not on speaking terms.   Let’s face it,  who can blame the Russians from becoming a nation of alcoholics by trading in overcooked cabbage and borscht for a bottle of distilled potato juice?


Skip the bacon and go Balsamic Vinegar

I’ll admit that Brussels sprouts was not often found on my plate until I sampled “shaved Brussels sprouts” at Mario Batali’s Lupa restaurant in New York some years ago.   Imagine?: Raw Brussels sprouts with what I believe was a dressing of olive oil, lemon and, perhaps, some anchovy paste.  Wonderful!   Since then, I have learned that culinary culture may have arrived in the Midwest when I received a wonderful recipe from Rose Shafer for “braised Brussel sprouts.”

Our latest favorite is a recipe from Mark Bittman that was published in the New York Times:

Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Garlic


  • 1 pint brussels sprouts (about a pound)
  • 4 to 6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, to coat bottom of pan
  • 5 cloves garlic, peeled
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar (from Gourmet Living, of course!)


  1. Heat oven to 400 degrees. Trim bottom of brussels sprouts, and slice each in half top to bottom. Heat oil in cast-iron pan over medium-high heat until it shimmers; put sprouts cut side down in one layer in pan. Put in garlic, and sprinkle with salt and pepper.
  2. Cook, undisturbed, until sprouts begin to brown on bottom, and transfer to oven. Roast, shaking pan every 5 minutes, until sprouts are quite brown and tender, about 10 to 20 minutes.
  3. Taste, and add more salt and pepper if necessary. Stir in Gourmet Living’s balsamic vinegar of Modena, and serve hot or warm.

We trust your family enjoys them as much as ours does.

Orange Cake, Ancona Style

Marcella Hazan Orange CakeIn a delightful tribute to Marcella Hazan in the New York Times magazine, Mark Bittman recalls fondly how Marcella taught him “to interpret Child’s (Julia) work in a way that felt contemporary.”    He rightfully concludes “. . . we can drink to the woman who was largely responsible – however unintentionally – for bringing real Italian food to the United States.”

I am pleased to reproduce below one of Marcella’s few dessert recipes that was printed in Bittman’s New York Times article:

Orange Cake, Ancona-Style


  • 2 cups plus 2 Tbs all-purpose flour, plus flour for dusting the pan
  • 3 eggs
  • Grated peel of 3 oranges
  • 4 Tbs ( 1/2 a stick) butter, softened to room temperature, plus butter for greasing the pan
  • 1 cup plus 3 Tbs sugar
  • 2 Tbs of ouzo (Pernod is OK as substitute)
  • 1 Tbs whole milk
  • 2 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 2 cups freshly squeezed orange juice with 3 Tbs sugar dissolved in it.


  1. Heat the oven to 350º
  2. Put the flour, eggs, orange peel, 4 Tbs softened butter, sugar and ouzo in a food processor and run until all the ingredients are evenly amalgamated.
  3. Add the milk and baking powder, and process again to incorporate into the mixture
  4. Thickly smear a tube pan with butter, and dust with flour.  Put the cake mixture in the pan (It won’t fill it up all the way), and place the pan in the preheated oven.  Bake for 40 to 45 minutes, until the top of the cake becomes a rich gold color.
  5. When the cake is done, place the bottom of the pan over a bumbler or tall mug, using pot holders and push down to raise the loose bottom.  Take the tube with cake out of hoop, work the cake loose from the bottom with a knife and lift it away from the tube.  Place it on a plate with a slight raised rim.
  6. While the cake is still warm, poke many holes in it using a chopstick or any similar narrow tool.  Into each of the holes, slowly pour some of the orange juice.  At first the hole fills to the brim with juice, bus this will subsequently – in about an hour – be absorbed by the cake
  7. Serve an room temperature, with more orange juice drizzle over each slice.

Yep.  It is as good as it sounds.

Kale, Sausage and Mushroom Stew

Tuscan KaleThey say that people tend to lose their sense of taste as they grow older.   I suppose that is true given the number of people that watch politicians and their pundits on TV.  Personally, I believe that a bit of Tabasco makes everything more tasteful, with the possible exception of  “hate” TV.   One vegetable that has become a favorite of mine is Tuscan kale, also known as black kale or lacinato kale.  The taste is so distinctive and sharp that no Tabasco is needed to stimulate the saliva glands.   The best thing about kale is that it is full of antioxidants and is very high in beta carotene, vitamin K, vitamin C, lutein, zeaxanthin, and reasonably rich in calcium.  It isn’t often that you find a vegetable this tasty that does so many good things for your body.

I made a New Year’s resolution to promote a more healthy diet in 2011 on GourMay.  Some of my Texas relatives were not pleased with this decision but after watching Jamie Oliver give his vegetable quiz to some West Virginian kids, I decided  to jump on Jaime’s bandwagon and support the American Food Revolution. 

 I mean, imagine a world dominated by McDonalds, KFC, Dunkin Donut and Starbucks.  Pretty grim stuff if you ask me, but a diet of brown rice and tofu would likely send me around the bend.  

Now that I have a granddaughter, I want to make sure that she is brought up properly eating the “right” food.  I don’t plan to go overboard like most of today’s amateur nutritionists who have taken the joy out of eating.  GourMay is  simply going to focus on eating non-processed foods.  In fact, next month we will be launching a new section on GourMay on how to prepare natural baby foods as the solids begin to kick in month four of Corinne’s culinary awakening.

Several months ago, I presented a couple of kale recipes that were quite popular with old and young alike:  Raw Tuscan Kale Salad with Pecorino and Kale Crunch.    This time, we will experiment with Mark Bittman’s kale stew recipe  (The Minimalist column from the New York Times), affectionately known to his fans as “Bitty,” who was paired with the Claudia “Eye Candy” Bassols in Mario Batali’s delightful and entertaining Spain food Odyssey, On the Road Again.

Kale, Sausage and Mushroom Stew


1 Tbs extra virgin olive oil
3/4 to 1 pound Italian sausage, sweet or hot, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 pound of kale, leaves stripped from stems, stems reserved
3/4 pound trimmed and sliced mushrooms
1 Tbs roughly chopped garlic
1 Tbs hot paprika or dried red  chili flakes, or to taste
Salt and pepper to taste
2 cups chicken stock or water (not Perrier!)


  • Put olive oil in a large deep skillet or casserole and turn heat to medium-high.  When the oil begins to ripple (Langston, that means make waves that you are not afraid to surf in), add sausage and cook without stirring until well browned on one side (about 5 minutes).  Meanwhile chop kale stems into 1/2-inch lengths and shred leaves.
  • Stir sausage and let it brown a bit more.  Remove it with a slotted spoon (don’t worry if it isn’t cooked through).  Cook mushrooms in remaining fat, stirring occasionally, until lightly browned, about 10 minutes.  Remove with a slotted spoon and keep warm.
  • Add kale stems and cook, stirring frequently, until they begin to brown, in 3 or 4 minutes.  turn heat to medium and add garlic, paprika or chili flakes, kale leaves, salt and pepper.  Stir and cook about 1 minutes.  Return sausage to pan and add stock or water.  Raise head to high and cook about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally and scraping bottom of pan with wooden spoon.  Add salt and pepper to taste, ladle stew into bowls and top with reserved mushrooms.

You are what you eat and, quite frankly, the war in Europe would have been lost if Churchill had been eating tofu and drinking skim milk.