In the beginning of the week, I often make a meal that will feed me and my wife for a couple of days. Its economical and easy, and, since I work nights, its one of the only times I can to cook at home. And when it comes to making “family meal” sized portions, pasta is always a good way to go. But just because I have to cook in bulk doesn’t mean I can’t have some fun.
What I love about cooking is that it’s such a simple concept with limitless approaches. In almost all cases, cooking is just the process of applying heat to ingredients. But the temperature of the heat, the medium used to apply the heat, the amount of time heat is applied, all play a part in how food looks, smells and tastes. This is why I like doing things like Eggplant Four Ways.
Brussel Sprout is another versatile vegetable that I love to cook with. In this meal, I decided to char half and slow cook the other half. Both methods highlight different flavors that can be coaxed out of one vegetable.
Brussel Sprout Pistachio Pasta – serves 10 guests (or 8 hungry ones)
1 head of garlic
1 1/2 cup olive oil (separated 1 cup and 1/2 cup)
2 lb brussel sprouts
1 small jalapeno
1 medium yellow onion
1 sprig rosemary
1/4 lb butter (1 stick)
1 cup pistachio (shelled, unsalted)
2 lb dry shell pasta1 lemon
Salt and pepper to taste
Grated pecorino for garnish
– Peel one head of garlic and put into small sauce pot. Add 1 cup of olive oil and heat on medium high until bubbles form. Then bring it down to low heat but still hot enough that there are still some bubbles forming. In 20-30 minutes, garlic will be aromatic, slightly golden and soft all the way through. Remove garlic and transfer oil to a big sauce pan and set aside (the picture shows three heads of garlic cause I wanted to use some elsewhere)
– Meanwhile, trim the ends of the brussels and discard the scraps. Cut the brussels into halves and on each half make two small slices along the sides of the stem and separate the stem from the leaves
– Take half of the cut brussels and julienne. Break the other half of the brussels up into individual leaves. Dice the stems as well and add to the brussels that are full leaves
– Dice jalapeno and onion. Set aside
– Heat up a big frying pan. Do not add oil*. When very hot, add enough of the julienne brussels to fill the pan. Do not overcrowd. Instead do in small batches repeating this step as necessary. Let the brussels pick up color in the dry pan and only toss after the bottom has gotten some brown. Set aside. (I took this picture prematurely. Get more color than this)
*why no oil? Oil is great at distributing heat evenly into food. When there is oil in the pan, it heats up and applies that heat to the food. The more oil you use, the more surfaces it comes into contact with, the more evenly the food is cooked. The extreme example is a deep fryer. Deep fried foods are uniformly brown because the food is completely engulfed by the oil. Seems very obvious. The effects of oil in cooking are less obvious to some when cooking in a pan. Cooks who are afraid to use oil wonder why their food doesn’t brown evenly. Its because the food in the pan is usually not completely flat so only parts of it makes contact with the hot pan and those parts brown first. Adding oil closes the gap and puts the whole surface in contact with a conductive medium. Alternatively, air is a relatively poor conductor of heat and does not distribute heat very evenly. Think of the hot and cold spots in your oven. In the case of these brussels, the goal is uneven cooking. I wanted the char but I still wanted the rawness. But I digress….
– Add whole sprig of rosemary and 1/2 a stick of butter to the oil that was used to cook the garlic and heat up with low heat. Make a paste with the cooked garlic with the side of your knife and add back into oil
– Add jalapeno, onion and full leaf and stems of brussels. Cook low and slow until the brussel stems are tender. When done, remove rosemary and discard– Meanwhile, add the remaining 1/2 cup of olive to a pan with pistachios. Cook on medium high, stirring frequently until brown and set aside
– Cook pasta al dente per instructions
– Peel the lemon trying not to take off the bitter white pith. Cut peel into very thin strips for garnish. Juice the lemon and set aside
– Make brown butter with 1/2 stick of butter by melting in a pan and heating up until the butter solids turn a golden brown. Turn off heat and add lemon juice to stop the browning
– When pasta is finished cooking, strain and return to the big pot. Also add to pot both sets of brussels, the pistachios with its oil, and the brown butter with the lemon juice. Toss to combine
– Season with salt and pepper to taste
– Serve in a bowl and top with grated pecorino and lemon zest
Results – the wife didn’t complain. There were many steps to this one some had a long cook time associated with them at which point I was able to multitask. The flavors were there and pretty good for huge pot of food. The approach would be different I put more money, thought and time into it. But hey, that’s family meal for you.
Afterthought – With the advantage of thought, time and hindsight, I would keep a lot of these flavors but do some things differently. First, I would grind the pistachio up into smaller pieces and add finely chopped rosemary. This would make it more of a sauce rather than just another ingredient mixed in.
Second, more color on the julienne brussels. It can take it. Charred brussels are nutty and popcorny and full of flavor. With the other half of the brussels being slow cooked and still a bit mustardy tasting, the extra contrast would be more striking. The julienne brussels would have also gone on as a garnish. Mixing it into the pasta cooked it and I didn’t get the texture I wanted.
Finally, I would change the lemon zest garnish to preserved lemon zest. That would have built an extra layer of depth.There you have it. This is what I think about at 2 in the morning.
Later edit: if adding meat, bacon or pancetta is a pretty obvious choice. Merguez would be less obvious and perhaps equally delicious.