It is shockingly beautiful out right now. The colors of the leaves at the end of October remind me of the painted hillsides of changing Aspens from when I lived in Colorado. Never mind that it's been raining hard for days (and now gets dark at 5pm...), I still love the fall in Seattle.
Last week was a different story, however, as I enjoyed the 75 degree year-round norm of the Bay Area. I spent a few days at our beach house in Monterey where we used to spend summers and New Year's when I was a kid. (One year I remember we swam in the cold ocean waves on January 1; I'll barely dip my feet in these days!) Some of my dad’s family came down for dinner and we had alder grilled salmon and Barthelow potato salad (a long-standing family recipe I'm not sure I'm legally allowed to share with you - thoughts Aunt Barbara?) Over the course of the dinner conversation it came out that my father’s life-long aversion to vegetables might actually be genetic.
My uncle Dirk hates Brussels sprouts. So does my dad. So do potentially all of their other six (yes, six) siblings. It turns out my grandmother, who thoughtfully made to order whatever each of her eight kids wanted for breakfast each morning, evidently lacked any talent in preparing vegetables. My aunt Iz shared stories of canned peas re-cooked until they were brownish mush. The zucchini, my dad recounted, would be boiled until it fell apart and then piled on the plate with no seasoning. My uncle Dirk remembered the Brussels sprouts that you could smell as soon as you set foot in the house, boiled and boiled until they finally landed on your plate where you had to eat them all if you ever wanted to be allowed to leave the table. Somewhere in the early 60s, my dad discovered a small ledge on the underside of the dining room table; when his dad wasn't looking, he clandestinely stashed away rows of peas, brown mushy broccoli, or melting zucchini onto the ledge piece by piece until his dad turned back around and he asked with a grin “May I please be excused?”
I know Brussels sprouts have a bad reputation, but bear with me. I promise you this dish is nothing like you've ever tasted before. There's something about the nuttiness of the caramelized Brussels, the butteriness of the pine nuts, and the heavy presence of butter and oil that makes it delicious.
Some people are surprised to learn how Brussels sprouts grow, as little mini-cabbage like ‘sprouts’ up the sides of a tall stalk. In all its food-trendiness-glory, Seattle has taken to showcasing the entire stalk in grocery stores as they come into season in October. When I came across a bunch in my local market, I giddily remembered this pasta dish that becomes my winter version of comfort food (to save me from eating boxes of Annie’s mac and cheese). Make it for your Brussels-sprouts skeptics - you might make converts of out of them yet. (I’m looking at you, Uncle Dirk).
Pasta a la Bruxelles
Adapted from the Pantry @ Delancey
1/2 pound whole wheat linguini or spaghetti
3/4 pound Brussels sprouts, trimmed
3 tablespoons pine nuts, toasted
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 teaspoon salt
Bring a pot of heavily salted water to a boil (it should taste like ocean-water). Cook pasta to al dente.
Toast pine nuts in a dry pan, stirring often, until golden brown. Set aside.
Chiffonade the Brussels sprouts. I usually trim the ends off, then cut them and half, and then run through them with my knife to make little ribbons of the leaves.
In a large pan, heat the butter and oil together until hot. Add the Brussels sprouts and salt and sauté until just cooked through, 4-5 minutes. They should be bright green and just starting to caramelize on the bottom of the pan. Remove from heat.
When the pasta is finished cooking, drain and reserve some of the cooking water. Pour pasta into pan with Brussels and toss to combine. Add a splash of the cooking water and a generous amount of grated of Parmesan cheese. Top with pine nuts and more parmesan.