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Charred Brussels sprouts with pancetta and fig glaze recipe

Sweet and salty: fig jam brings up the natural sweetness of the Brussels sprouts and crispy bits of pancetta add texture, flavor, and richness. And it's easy, too. Eat your brassicas.
Sweet and salty: fig jam brings up the natural sweetness of the Brussels sprouts and crispy bits of pancetta add texture, flavor, and richness. And it's easy, too. Eat your brassicas.
K. Yencich

If you’re looking for a recipe to hide a pound of arugula in a pan of brownies, Brassicas: Cooking the world’s healthiest vegetables, by Laura B. Russell, is not for you.

Brassicas, by Laura Russell is a great book for lovers of cauliflower, kale, Brussels sprout and broccoli -- and for people who would like to fall in love with them.
Sang An, copyright 2014

Good thing, too, because the mantle of “superfood” has made the brassicas - kale, cauliflower, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, rutabaga, turnips and so on - seem more like medicine than food.

In fact, they’re delicious.

First, Brassicas sorts these vegetables by their defining characteristics - mild (cauliflower, Napa cabbage) and peppery (arugula, turnips), to pungent (wasabi, horseradish). Then, Russell shows you how to balance and highlight their flavors - softening them with beans or pasta, smoothing them out with dairy, adding a bit of sweetness with honey or fruit to lighten the intensity, underscoring their boldness with spices or salt, or taming their heat by cooking them.

The recipes are sorted by vegetable, so before you advance to cauliflower (chapter two), you will have experienced kale (chapter one) as a sauté, a salad, pesto, chips, with fried rice and in a stew. Within the categories, Russell describes each vegetable, discusses selection and storage, outlines preparation, and offers nutrition highlights. In every respect, Brassicas is intelligent, thoughtful and comprehensive.

So, down to business: the recipes are wonderful.

In addition the practical considerations of learning to cook with a particular vegetable, you’ll find new techniques and combinations for foods you thought you knew well - roasted cabbage as a warm salad, cauliflower hummus and cauliflower “rice” (pulsed to tiny rice-like bits in a food processor, then steamed), roasted broccoli with savory granola, roasted radishes, turnip and apple salsa. Depending on your favorites and your taste for adventure, there are happy surprises around every corner.

Pity the poor “super-tasters,” genetically doomed never to appreciate the bright, assertive charms of the brassicas.

Oh well, more for you.

CHARRED BRUSSELS SPROUTS WITH PANCETTA and FIG GLAZE

Reprinted with permission from Brassicas by Laura B. Russell (Ten Speed Press, © 2014), available in bookstores everywhere, and online.

Serves 4

  • 3 tablespoons olive oil (divided)
  • 3 to 4 ounces pancetta, diced
  • 11⁄2 pounds Brussels sprouts, trimmed and halved (or quartered if large) through the stem end (about 6 cups)
  • 1⁄4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 2 tablespoons fig jam
  • 1 tablespoon water
  • 1⁄4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  1. In a large (12 inches or wider) frying pan, heat 1 tablespoon of the oil over medium heat. Add the pancetta and cook, stirring occasionally, for about 3 minutes, until crisp. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the pancetta to a small bowl.
  2. Return the pan to medium-high heat and add the remaining 2 tablespoons oil. Add the Brussels sprouts, keeping them in a single layer as much as possible. Having a few extra sprouts is fine, but if they are mounded in a pile, they will not brown or cook evenly. If necessary, use a larger pan, cook them in two batches, or pull out the extra for another use. Stir in the salt. Cook, stirring occasionally, for about 10 minutes, until the Brussels sprouts are tender and well browned—even charred in spots. If the sprouts are browning too quickly, lower the heat to medium.
  3. Add the fig jam and the water and stir until the jam melts and coats the Brussels sprouts. Add the reserved pancetta and the pepper and stir to combine. Taste and add additional salt or pepper if needed. Serve warm.
  • VARIATIONS For a sweet, salty, tangy version, add a drizzle (a teaspoon or less) of balsamic vinegar at the end. Aged balsamic is an especially good choice. Although pancetta is used here, bacon may be used in its place.