Brussels sprouts

 Brussels sprouts Key facts It's possible that Brussels sprouts were cultivated as early as the 1200s in what is now Belgium, hence the name; they are an excellent source of vitamin C and, like all cruciferous veg, have anti-cancer properties; take care not to overcook sprouts as this releases a sulphur-smelling glucosinolate, sinigrin, which could be why so many people claim not to like sprouts!

Season: Best from November to February
Mini cabbages that grow on thick stalks is how I would describe Brussels. In Norfolk, on my way to football matches on Saturdays, I can buy them still attached to their two-feet-high stalks, which means I can ‘pick’ them fresh as I need them through the week.

People either love or hate Brussels sprouts, and I am devoted to them – with provisos. I never buy them till November, because I think that frost sharpens their flavour; sprouts at the end of summer are never as good. Also, they’re difficult to cook if too large, so small, tight buttons about 1 inch (2.5 cm) in size are best.

The larger, more opened, walnut-sized sprouts are more difficult to cook but can be used in purées or soups.To cook Brussels sprouts, there’s no need to make incisions in the stalks. All you need to do for 1 lb (450 g) of sprouts is take off the outer leaves if they look a bit weary (if not, leave them on), sprinkle with salt, and steam them for 5-8 minutes, depending on their size, but watch carefully and remember undercooking is just as bad as overcooking, so use a skewer to test when they’re tender.

Another way to serve them is to have a frying pan with ½ a teaspoon of butter and ½ a teaspoon of oil very hot, then, after giving them about 1 minute’s less steaming, toss them around in the hot pan to finish cooking and to turn them fairly brown at the edges.

This last method can be varied by adding a couple of rashers of chopped streaky bacon, cooked first till crisp, or at Christmas it’s nice to add 4 oz (110 g) of chopped, peeled, cooked chestnuts and brown these, too. 1 lb (450 g) of Brussels sprouts will serve 2-3 people.

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