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.
Bubble-and-squeak with a Christmas twist: instead of the usual cabbage and potatoes, Delia uses leftover sprouts for a tasty version of this traditional recipe.
You need small, tightly enclosed Brussels sprouts for this recipe, in which they are jazzed up with bacon and sherry vinegar. We defy anyone to turn round and claim not to like sprouts after trying this!
Braising sprouts in wine and adding bacon lifts them to the realm of something really exciting...even those who claim to hate sprouts will enjoy them when cooked like this.
Forget fiddly peeling of fresh chestnuts - a pack of cooked and peeled chestnuts makes the job much quicker and easier. A classic Christmas combination of ingredients.
The winter months aren't the most exciting on the vegetable front, but when you can make wonderful soups like this one - from potatoes, leeks and Brussels sprouts - who cares?