Wednesday, November 24, 2010
Jean Strouse's Brussels Sprouts
Many people have their own recipes for converting Brussels sprouts haters into Brussels sprouts lovers. The key to success, it seems, is adding fat.
Firmly in the lover camp myself, I had two such recipes in my arsenal, and as of today, three.
In addition to my mother's roasted sprouts (a heavy pour of olive oil), and Molly Stevens’ cream-braised sprouts (cream!), I now look forward to adding Jean Strouse’s buttery and bacony Brussels sprouts to my recipe roster.
Jean Strouse is the director of the New York Public Library's Dorothy and Lewis B. Cullman Center for Scholars and Writers, which offers a nine-month fellowship to fourteen scholars and writers who require use of the Library's collections for their work. Jean also makes some mean Brussels sprouts.
I asked Jean a few questions about this recipe and some other favorites:
CB: Where and when did you first encounter this recipe?
JS: I found the recipe in The New York Times when it was first published, in 1990. [The article was in the New York Times Magazine on December 16, 1990 and is called Coming Home by Aimee Lee Ball. - CB] I made it that first year, and forever after. The original calls for nutmeg, which I omit - not right for this mix. And you can either double the bacon or add butter. The sprouts really absorb the fat (I wish there were a better word), and without more they stick to the pan, burn, and don't get soft enough.
CB: Who are some of your favorite cookbook authors? And which cookbooks do you most enjoy cooking from?
JS: My all-time most favorite cookbook author is Marcella Hazan - the original volumes I and II of Classic Italian Cooking. I have used them for years - one had a yellow book jacket, the other green, so I have kind of a sense memory of which recipe appears in which book. Also Julia Child, of course - I learned to cook from her, and from my favorite aunt. I also often work from Maida Heatter's fabulous dessert books, starting with Maida Heatter's Book of Great Desserts. She actually has THE best recipe ever for chocolate chip cookies, and an amazing flourless chocolate cake with ground almonds and orange peel. And "East 62nd St. Lemon Cake" -- light, lemony, perfect. You paint a mix of fresh lemon juice and sugar on the hot cake just after it comes out of the oven, with a pastry brush; the solution soaks into the cake and forms a gentle crust.
CB: Any special bacon you use, or is it simply supermarket bacon?
JS: I ordered the bacon from a smokehouse in Wisconsin called Nueske's. They make applewood smoked hams, turkeys, sausages, bacon, and lots of other meats, all superb. This time I got two pounds, one for the NYPL recipe, and another for tomorrow's Thanksgiving dinner.
CB: What else is on your Thanksgiving menu?
JS: Another recipe from that same page in the Times for a winter vegetable puree - squashes, parsnips, turnips, rutabaga (a wonderful word), celery root - and (forget coronary arteries) heavy cream.
Also a pumpkin pie: I got the recipe from a friend in the mid-1970s, wrote it out on an index card, and still have the card. Another friend asked for it last night and I thought I'd lost it - but no, it turned up. I've got to store it on my computer. It calls for a mix of brown and white sugar, milk and cream. Somehow those ingredients enhance and don't overwhelm the pumpkin flavor. I hate pumpkin pies that are too sweet or loaded up with cloves (I leave the cloves out of this one).
The Library was recently invited into Jean's kitchen to watch her make the sprouts with the help of Melanie Rehak, a former Cullman Center fellow (for her work on Girl Sleuth), and author of the engaging new book Eating For Beginners, which makes special mention of Jean's recipe. Check out the video above, and be sure to read more about Jean's sprouts adaptation - and get the recipe - on NYPL's Tumblr page.