Riverford - brussels sprouts
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Words: Guy Singh-Watson   Photography by Riverford

Riverford - brussels sprouts

Parsnip, Brussels sprout & bacon potato cakes


Sprouts are the most bitter of the edible brassicas (cabbage, cauliflower, swede and broccoli); but bitter can be good, provided it is not combined with the abuse of overcooking. It is the harnessing of this bitterness that gets sprouts singing through a dish: contrast it with the sweetness of chestnuts; pair it with the acidity of balsamic vinegar, the richness of honey and the toasty crunch of pine nuts; or balance it with cream and bacon in an oozy gratin.
We pick the first varieties in August and the season runs through to March (at a stretch) but we have found that sprouts are usually at their best from November to January, and we concentrate our harvest then. Growing a cosmetically perfect organic sprout is nigh on impossible – the dense canopy of leaves above the stalk traps a layer of humidity, providing the perfect breeding ground for slugs, aphids and fungal diseases. Even after being picked through by hand, our sprouts are never perfect, but the slower growth does make them taste better! Don’t be put off by a few tatty outer leaves: it’s pretty hard to avoid these without a barrage of fungicides and pesticides; peel them off and you’ll find that the sprout within is usually just fine.
Sprouts on the stalk will keep somewhere cool for a couple of weeks. Off the stalk, they are still good for a week or so.
Remove any ragged or tough outer leaves. Trim the base if it is long or discoloured. Unless your sprouts are huge, there’s no need to score a cross in them to speed up cooking – it may make them a little mushy. Rinse in cold water and don’t be tempted to save the trimmings for stock unless you want a kitchen smelling of school canteen cabbage.
Whether boiling, frying or roasting, the main hazard with Brussels sprouts is overcooking them – they’ll become a soggy, sulphurous mush. Avoid this pitfall and you have a winter veg that is versatile, delectable and filled with folic acid.
Prepare your sprouts as described above and drop into lightly salted boiling water – leave the lid off to preserve their colour. They’re done when just tender to the tip of a sharp knife, usually less than 5 minutes. You could also steam them, which takes a couple of minutes more. Either way, they’re nicest when the core retains some texture – less than crunchy, but not soggy. For the simplest dish, drain and toss with butter, salt and pepper.
Eating Brussels sprouts raw
This quick option has converted some staunch sprout haters, but should only be tried with very fresh veg. Slice the sprouts as finely as you can: this is easiest if you cut them in half first so that you have a flat surface for them to sit on. Toss with one of the following dressings and season to taste:
German style: one part cider vinegar to two parts rapeseed oil, a good dollop of soured cream, a little wholegrain mustard, finely sliced apple and toasted hazelnuts.
Vietnamese style: Sriracha or other chilli sauce, lime juice, rice wine vinegar, fish sauce, sunflower oil, sugar, crushed garlic, finely sliced shallots, toasted peanuts and coriander leaves.
Japanese style: soy sauce and toasted sesame seeds.
Fry: slice your sprouts into fine rounds or half moons. Heat oil or butter in a wide pan, add the sprouts, season and fry over a moderate heat, stirring frequently, until wilted – about 5 minutes. Adding some acid really lifts their flavour, so include a dash of lemon juice or vinegar a minute or so before they come out of the pan. Eat as they are, or jazz up with the following:
Bacon and almonds: Fry some bacon lardons until just starting to colour then add the sliced sprouts. If there is enough rendered bacon fat in the pan you may not need extra oil or butter. Top off with toasted flaked almonds.
Asian influence: Stir-fry the sprouts quickly over a high heat with a pinch or two of chilli flakes, some slivers of garlic, fresh ginger and a splash of soy sauce.
Festive twist: Stir dried cranberries, chopped pecans and parsley through the fried sprouts.
Parsnip, Brussels sprout & bacon potato cakes
This is a jazzed-up version of bubble and squeak and can be adapted to finish up all sorts of leftover vegetables, though parsnips, sprouts and bacon is a particularly satisfying combination. A poached or fried egg or sausages would be a good addition.
Serves 4
200g parsnips, peeled & cut into even-sized pieces (alternatively, you could use leftover boiled, steamed or roasted parsnips)
3 tbsp olive oil
300–400g potatoes, peeled & cut into even-sized pieces
200g Brussels sprouts, outer leaves removed
8 rashers smoked streaky bacon, finely sliced
polenta flour (or use ordinary plain flour), for dusting
salt and black pepper
1. Heat the oven to 200°C/Gas 6.
2. Toss the parsnips with salt, pepper and about a tablespoon of the oil. Spread over an oven tray and roast for about 40 minutes, until soft and beginning to caramelise. Remove, allow to cool then roughly chop.
3. While the parsnips are roasting, boil the potatoes in salted water until soft - about 20 minutes. Drain well and mash while warm. Keep your mash as dry as possible so that the cakes hold together; if it seems wet, stir it over a low heat for a few minutes.
4. Cook the sprouts in plenty of salted boiling water until tender - about 5 minutes. Drain well and cut into quarters.
5. Fry the bacon over a medium–high heat with a drizzle of oil in a large frying pan (preferably non-stick) until really crispy. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on kitchen paper. Keep the oil left in the pan to fry the cakes.
6. Mix all the veg with the bacon and season with salt and pepper. Dust your hands with flour then mould the mixture into burger-sized patties. Add the remaining oil to the frying pan, place over a medium heat and fry the cakes in batches until they are golden brown - about 5 minutes per side. Add more oil to the pan if you need it. If the first cakes have cooled down by the time you have fried the last, you can reheat them all in the oven for 5–10 minutes, until piping hot.
BEETROOT: Replace the parsnips with roasted beetroot or squash for striking coloured alternatives.
VEGETARIAN: Use raw grated apples instead of bacon for a vegetarian option.
SWAP YOUR GREENS: Experiment with your greens: try cabbage or kale.
TRY: award-winning organic produce delivered to your door
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