Wee, tiny versions of regular-sized things are almost always irresistible. Mini Twix? Check. Kittens? Check. Those tiny, lady finger bananas? Double check. Brussels sprouts? Not so much.
I think of them as an adult vegetable – one you only learn to properly appreciate when you’ve finally laid your inner six-year-old to rest so she can stop saying EWWW about such things. They’re a nutritional powerhouse, packed with vitamins and protein. And they are as cute as they can be, like perfect little cabbages for fairies and other small creatures interested in vitamin K.
I happen to love them. After I was inspired to try Suzanne Goin’s balsamic braised version (amazing), I started playing around with other ways to braise these mighty balls of leafy might to perfection. One night, I decided to use them in place of pasta under simple pan-seared scallops. Braised in the tomato sauce, the Brussels sprouts took on a rich, tangy flavor while adding enough bulk to reasonably qualify the dish as a one-bowl meal. Their earthy heft handily balances the scallops’ sweet, spongy levity here; add a heel of crusty bread and you have a perfect storm of flavor and texture. It’s satisfying but not heavy which comes in handy in this, the season of dietetic good intentions.
Since it’s technically winter (even Los Angeles is hurting for decent fresh tomatoes this time of year), I stick with canned tomatoes. I’ve been enjoying the various offerings in Muir Glen’s 2009 Organic Reserve gift box recently, and the fire roasted diced tomatoes were an absolute knock out for this sauce. Any 14.5 oz can of petite diced tomatoes will do, but I highly recommend looking into Muir Glen for a bit of extra sparkle.
(Keep reading Braised Brussels Sprouts with Tomatoes and Scallops…)
My neighborhood smells like perfume. Though my schedule over the past few weeks has been somewhat chaotic (it may not surprise you to know that the bankruptcy world is a little…what’s the word…busy these days), I cannot resist pausing on the landing on the way out the door each morning to inhale the crisp, damp air. Laden with moisture from the previous night and the impending threat of the week’s summer storms, it burgeons with the heady presence of jasmine, roses, and lemon verbena. Dewy brush and grass begin to warm in the morning sun and the scent reminds me of an old campground, even though we are in the middle of a gargantuan city. The Hollywood hills are strange this way – a wild island in the midst of a sea of concrete. Despite the messy realities of my upcoming day, in those moments the scented air makes the world seem perfect.
Eventually, those realities catch up with me. My job, like so many others, can be unpredictable from week to week. It’s not uncommon for me to interrupt a nice leave-by-6:30 streak with two weeks of complete crazy, only to return to relative calm once again. During those busy times, it’s critical for me to keep things on hand that can easily be thrown together into real food. This week, a few simple ingredients – polenta, Italian sausage, and tomato sauce – have made for a few fast and delicious dinners that I’d love to share with you.
This is one of my lightning-fast recipes. It’s so incredibly simple, I almost hate to call it cooking - it feels more like ingredient assembly to me (though, really, you can say that about all cooking if you take a big enough step back). Consider this one of those baby steps between picking up takeout and cooking something complex. I set a timer last night to see just how long this takes. It seems fast, but my sense of time is roughly as accurate as a terrier’s, so some objective verification was necessary. From opening the fridge to plating the finished food, I clocked this in at around 9 minutes, and that included the sliced polenta modeling session on my cutting board. Four ingredients, two pans, less than 10 minutes. Wowza.
If you aren’t familiar with polenta, my lovelies, you should be. I cheat and buy the precooked kind. You can easily make your own, though it can be a little time-consuming. Precooked polenta typically comes in either a roll or a loaf (both called a chub). I like the roll because it slices into disks very easily. You can usually find it near the salami/pepperoni in the grocery store. Made of corn, polenta is a hearty, delicious alternative to pasta (and delightfully wheat-free for our gluten-avoiding friends). Though delicious in savory dishes, as I suggest here, it also makes a wonderful addition to the breakfast table. Sauté and top with maple syrup for rib-sticking, corn-based goodness.
(Keep reading Polenta with Tomatoes and Italian Sausage…)