Andy Warhol once said that in the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes, and it seems the Brussels sprout is experiencing a similar celebrity. You can't pick up a magazine or turn on a cooking show without seeing a recipe for the lowly-regarded-until-recently little gems.
As kids, my brother and I never thought of them as food, but more as a punishment. Mom would promise us a week's worth of Brussels sprouts if we did not clean our plates with glee and thanksgiving.
It's possible that mothers have been using them for coercion for centuries, as they have been around since the Romans. The modern version that we find today dates to the 13th century, where it was cultivated in, you guessed it, Belgium.
The first clue we had to their current popularity was when we were returning from a trip to Monterrey. Besides the fact that they seemed to be on every menu we opened, we kept seeing miles and miles of fields once blanketed with artichokes now planted with the thick stalks bearing miniature cabbage-resembling clusters.
The recent interest in the connection between health and diet surely has helped them into the limelight. Brussels sprouts contain the two phytochemicals cambene and indole 3-carbinol, which in combination are believed to fight certain types of cancer. Adding to that some healthy doses of vitamins A, C, K and B6, along with magnesium and potassium, earns these little crucifers the designation of "superfood" in pop food culture.
Almost any method of cooking - roasting, blanching in saltwater, frying - can be applied with success. Shredded and served raw or sauteed works as well.
Today's offering is kind of a redux of the classic spinach and warm bacon salad from the 1980s. Here we have blanched the Brussels sprouts for a couple of minutes before roasting them. I think it helps to set the color. If appearance is not an issue and you aren't taking a picture that hopefully a lot of people are going to look at, you can skip that step and increase the roasting time slightly.
Either way, pick up some Brussels sprouts while they're hot. Your body will appreciate it, and your Mom, too.
Roasted Brussels Sprouts with bacon and balsamic
4 ounces bacon, sliced crossways 1⁄4-inch
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 pounds Brussels sprouts, washed and trimmed
1 large shallot, peeled and julienned
3⁄4 cup balsamic vinegar
11⁄2 cups chicken stock
1 ounce butter
Salt and pepper
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Place the eggs in a pot of boiling water and cook for 15 minutes. Drain them and rinse under cold water to stop the cooking. Peel the eggs and rough chop.
Bring a pot of water to a boil. Prepare a large bowl of ice water. Add a liberal amount of salt and the Brussels sprouts to the boiling water and cook for three minutes.
Immediately plunge the Brussels sprouts into the ice water. Drain and pat dry with a towel. Cut the sprouts in half lengthwise, toss in the olive oil, salt and pepper, and place on the roasting sheet cut-side down. Roast for about 20 minutes until browned on the bottom and just tender.
While the Brussels sprouts are roasting, cook the bacon. Heat a large saute pan, coat the pan with a little oil and add the bacon. Cook over medium-high heat, stirring frequently until browned and beginning to crisp. Remove the bacon to a plate lined with paper towels and reserve. Pour off all but a couple of tablespoons of the fat. Add the shallots to the pan and cook, stirring frequently until the food is just starting to color. Add the stock and the balsamic vinegar and cook over high heat to reduce by about two-thirds. Stir it occasionally, being sure to scrape up the bits of bacon stuck to the pan. It should thicken a little, like syrup. Remove from heat, add the butter and stir to incorporate. Reserve.
When the Brussels sprouts are tender, add them to the pan with the vinegar along with the cooked bacon and toss to coat. Taste for salt. Place in a serving bowl and top with chopped egg.
• Brian Shaw and his wife, Ardie, own Cafe Del Rio in Virginia City.