Brussels sprouts, Sicilian style

You guys, it’s the end of an era. The Minimalist is no more.

I’ve read Mark Bittman’s Minimalist columns in the New York Times for years now. His writing has been an inspiration, a lifeline, a swift kick in the pants. His recipes always look delicious. I want to make them all. Someday, I will.

So today’s post is a tribute of sorts. I’ll admit, though, that this is not a Minimalist recipe.

But I’m sure he’d approve.

Inspiration can come from the most unexpected corners. I learned this preparation from my primary care physician. (Hi, Barb!) She’s a nationally-known expert on health issues among women and teenagers; she was the one who diagnosed my PCOS, and she’s guided me through ten years of angst and confusion. She’s also Sicilian, and knows her way around food. When she described a traditional Sicilian method of cooking broccoli, I could hardly wait to get home and try it.

Before I go any farther, it’s worth explaining something. I’m an absolute fiend for broccoli. As a child, I unhesitatingly named it my favorite food. (Not vegetable. Food.) I love broccoli more than it is seemly for any girl to love any foodstuff. Crisp, fresh, just-cooked broccoli is pretty damn close to my idea of nirvana. Overcooking is a tragedy. Don’t even talk to me about cheese.

But the day I went to the store to look for broccoli to cook a la Barb, all the heads were limp and spotted brown. I pouted in the produce aisle. Then, in the next bin over, the brussels sprouts beckoned. They looked bright green and crisp, begging for the simplest presentation imaginable. It was so on.

Of course, in the end, I didn’t quite follow directions. (When do I ever?) Barb’s instructions involved crisping a near-inordinate amount of fresh garlic in olive oil, then scooping about half of it from the pan and tossing it with the cooked vegetables. But once I put the brussels sprouts into the warm oil, I started to worry that the remaining bits of garlic would burn. The sprouts browned, delicately, beautifully, but they weren’t cooking through fast enough. The pan needed some liquid, I decided. So I tossed in a little red wine vinegar, and watched the sprouts soften and turn an even more jewel-like green. Within a minute, they were done.

The vinegar may not have been traditional, but it made the dish lovely. I was surprised to find that the garlic I left in the pan had turned jammy and sweet, a welcome contrast to the crisp, golden flecks I sprinkled on top. The sprouts themselves were perfectly cooked, lightly caramelized, sharp and nutty. It was simplicity incarnate, and fabulously minimalist.

Sicilian Brussels Sprouts with Garlic

1/2 lb. brussels sprouts, cut in half if larger than bite-size (or use broccoli, or cauliflower, or hell, anything cruciferous)

4-5 cloves garlic, minced

About 2 tbsp olive oil

Splash of red wine vinegar

Salt and pepper to taste.

Warm olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add garlic and cook, stirring occasionally, for 2-3 minutes, or until the garlic is golden brown and crisp. Using a slotted spoon, fish out about half the garlic (you don’t need to be meticulous about it) and drain on a paper towel. Add veggies to the pan with the remaining garlic, and cook, stirring once or twice, until the sprouts are lightly browned on both sides. Add the vinegar to the pan, and cook another minute or two, until the sprouts are soft but not mushy. Remove from heat and toss in the reserved crisp garlic. Season with salt and pepper, and serve.

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