These little green nuggets of goodness nestling snugly in the steamer amongst some virginal white cauliflower are my first of the season – about to be served alongside a rump of beef, Yorkshires and heavenly roast spuds. Brassica olearacea, to give them their full name, tis only polite, are one of nature’s finest gifts, though also the butt of many a child’s joke and seemingly hated by anyone under the age of 21. One can only put this down to the way they were nuked into submission by the mothers of the 50s, 60s and 70s. Now they should take their rightful place amongst the vegetable royalty.
It appears that although they have been around several centuries (the Belgians reckon the Romans brought them over to their place) they only became known in English and French gardens at the end of the 18th century. Thomas Jefferson apparently planted them in his veg plot in North America a little while later. I bet that fascinates you no end! The Belgians and French are partial to serving them with butter, cream or a white sauce, such as Mornay. They often braise them and mix them with thin strips of bacon and chestnuts. The tops of the sprout plant, known simply as ‘greens’, are delicious too.
I steamed mine today for 7 minutes until al dente but I also like to blanch them in hot water for 3 or 4 minutes then sauté them with garlic, whisps of smoky bacon and almonds. The key, as with all greens, is not to overcook them – they need a bite to them – a little crunchiness.
Like all things of beauty and wonder they need delicate handling – please show some love to sprouts this autumn!