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Brussels sprouts (Brassica oleracea; Gemmifera Group) look and taste like tiny cabbages, with a diameter of about 1 inch (2.5 cm). Known to the French as choux de Bruxelles, Brussels sprouts are hugely popular in Great Britain, where consumption far exceeds that of the United States.
The exact origins of Brussels sprouts are unknown, but history places the vegetable in Brussels, Belgium, sometime in the sixteenth century. Thomas Jefferson is credited with introducing Brussels sprouts to the United States. He brought the plant to Virginia from Paris in 1821.
Brussels sprouts are extremely cold hardy and can even survive a first frost. Some fans of this vegetable feel that a brush with cold even helps to develop its flavor. The plants are easy to grow in the home garden, and the growing season is relatively long. Instead of forming a large single head, as their cabbage cousin does, Brussels sprouts form all along a tall stem. Approximately 20 to 40 sprouts will grow on a stem that may reach a height of 3 feet (1 m).
Brussels sprouts are a great source of vitamins A, C, and K. They contain iron, fiber, potassium, and B vitamins, too. In addition, Brussels sprouts also contain folate, protein, and the antioxidant beta-carotene. Brussels sprouts are available fresh and frozen, year-round.
Considering their status as a nutritional powerhouse, it’s unfortunate that Brussels spouts have something of a bad reputation. Cooked properly, they have a surprisingly delicate flavor, almost nutty and lightly sweet. The texture of a correctly prepared Brussels sprout should be fork tender. Improperly cooked, which is to say overcooked, Brussels sprouts release foul-smelling gases and have an unpleasant mushy texture.
The traditional way to prepare Brussels sprouts involves washing them and removing any loose or yellowed outer leaves. The small heads should be compact; free from holes, which may indicate the presence of insects; and uniform in size to ensure even cooking. The stem end is trimmed, and a cross may be cut into the stem if desired. Very large sprouts may be cut in half before cooking.
Brussels sprouts may be boiled or steamed, just until tender. Alternatively, the sprouts may be roasted in a hot oven. This results in delicious, tender, sweet Brussels sprouts with crispy outer leaves. To oven-roast Brussels sprouts, simply clean them as described above, cut them in half, and place in a large bowl. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper. Toss well to coat. Spread sprouts in a single layer on a baking sheet and roast in a 425° F (220° C) oven for about 15-20 minutes, until well browned and tender. Use a spatula to turn the sprouts once halfway through cooking. Serve warm or at room temperature.
I have never used Brussels sprouts this way, but i have read that especially small sprouts can be shredded and used in salads. There are many varieties of Brussels sprouts.
Noisette, a nutty flavored sprout is a favorite in France. There are also many hybrid varieties, one of the favorites is Peer Gynt, or Citadel that freezes well. Widgeon has a good resistance to disease or Sheriff that has none of the bitter flavor after cooking.