I am including Brussels sprouts as a post for a few reasons. First, it starts with “B.” (Ha ha) Second, I have grown them. Third, I want to confess my failures as well as my successes.
Theoretically, we can grow Brussels sprouts here; I have tried, and I will try again.
I know what’s wrong. The sprout part is never tight enough which results from the weather getting too warm. Brussels sprouts like cooler temperatures and coastal temperatures. Castroville (the artichoke capital) grows large amounts of Brussels sprouts, as does–get this!–Ensenada, Mexico. In fact, upwards of 98% of all Brussels sprouts grown for market are grown in California. (At least they were in 1999, according to the IPM Centers.) Even though they like cool temperatures, Brussels sprouts still need to be in full sun.
I’ve always bought my starts at our master gardener sale. I just can’t remember to count backwards 100 days before the first fall frost to remember to plant seeds. I’m lazy like that. But Brussels sprouts are a crop that do better if they are transplanted as seedlings rather than directly seeded in the ground. Yay, for that. Starting seeds is like raising baby chicks–they take up garage space, they need lights and water, and they can still die and make you feel terrible.
I confess I didn’t even know how Brussels sprouts grew until a couple of years ago when I started to see whole stalks being sold at Whole Foods. Perhaps they sell them this way in Northern California because we’re so close to the source? I’d say Brussels sprouts are one of the coolest-looking cool-season vegetables out there. We eat them often at our house. And while I didn’t have a much success getting my kid to eat them last season, I’m hopeful she’ll be fighting over them this fall/winter. Since I’m operating on full-disclosure this post, I didn’t really even offer my child the chance to eat many. My husband and I spent last year trying to mimic our favorite Brussels sprouts recipes, and didn’t want to share with the kid. She can never accuse us of forcing her to eat over-cooked, mushy Brussels sprouts!
I tried parboiling, frying, roasting, you name it, before stumbling by accident on just plain old baking them. (Baking and roasting are both cooking methods using dry heat. People typically “bake” breads, and “roast” meats and vegetables. Some people distinguish baking versus roasting by oven temperatures.) Technically speaking, I roasted them at a lower oven temperature simply because I didn’t have any high-heat oil (such as grape seed oil that has a high smoking point). I coated the Brussels sprouts in olive oil* in a 350 degree F oven. I quarter the sprouts for two reasons: they cook quicker and they have more surface area to get crispy. As I cut them, I save the loose leaves that come off and add them to the baking sheet for even more crunchy bits. I coat them in olive oil and salt** and watch them. They don’t take long to get brown and crispy, i.e., perfect. They taste excellent that way, but sometimes just to be fancy I’ll crumble a good parmesan cheese (never ever out of a can) on top with a drizzle of balsamic reduction (available at any specialty or Italian market). Crumbled bacon would be a nice addition if company were coming over.
*when buying olive oil, Italian is not best. Several studies have uncovered a scandalous side of the olive oil trade. Be sure to look for International Olive Council (IOC) seal alongside the California Olive Oil Council (COOC) seal printed directly on the bottle. There’s no need to buy imported olive oil when California grows the best olives in the world. In fact, California grows 95% of all U.S. olives (http://calolive.org), many of the orchards being small-scale family farms. If you’re really interested in this, read Extra Virginity: The Sublime and Scandalous World of Olive Oil by Tom Mueller.
**I use Himalayan pink salt. I don’t know the vagaries of different salts’ nutritional values. I only know that this is the best salt I’ve ever tasted. Maybe’s it’s just in my head…