Sunday, October 12, 2008

Brussel Sprouts with Pancetta

Brussel sprouts (or Brussels sprouts — either spelling is OK), the little miniature cabbages that we love to hate, are in season. They're cheap, plentiful, and, popular opinion aside, pretty tasty. At the farmer’s market you can buy them right on the stalk, which is kind of fun. Go ahead and walk around like the Queen Mum with her weird vegetable scepter.

I cook them regularly. Usually some variation of this recipe. This week I had some of the new La Quercia pancetta, which is outstanding.

~ Brussel Sprouts with Pancetta ~

Chop the pancetta in small cubes, about a quarter inch on each side. Warm them on a low heat till they're translucent. They'll look otherworldly, like they're glowing from within.

Cut the base off the brussel sprouts and peel off the outside leaves. Cut them in half if they’re bigger than in an inch or so across. Add them to the pan with a couple pats of butter.

Brown them for a bit. Add chicken broth so it covers the bottom of the pan (water is a distant second as an option). Throw in a couple leaves of fresh herbs if you have them. I added some sage.

Put a lid on and let cook for a bit till they're as soft as you'd like. It can take a half an hour or more.I prefer a little al dente, just a little firm to the bite.

Taste and season with salt and pepper.

I had an ear of corn so I cut the kernels straight off the cob into the pan near the end. It adds a nice bit of sweetness, which is good if your dining partner thinks sprouts are a little too bitter on their own.

Finish them uncovered in a 375 degree oven if you’d like them crispy.

Ad the end, serve on a warm plate with a twist of black pepper and maybe a pinch of Marash pepper and a squeeze of lemon.

A pound or so of sprouts
A couple ounces of bacon (or pancetta)
A little bit of butter
A half cup or so of chicken broth
Salt, pepper

Fresh sage
Fresh corn
Marash pepper

Monday, October 6, 2008

London, final notes.

Over three quarters of the cheeses for sale on the counter at Neal's Yard Dairy's are "new" cheeses. That is, non-traditional cheeses that have been made for the first time in the last couple decades. That surprised me. I expected a lot more of the counter dedicated to old traditional cheeses like Stilton, Lancashire, Cheddar. Instead there are lots of cheeses I'd never heard of a few years ago, like Ogleshield, Cardo and -- my favorite name -- Cornish Yarg.

This mirrors what's happening in the USA. In the last five to ten years dozens and dozens of new cheese makers have started businesses. Other longstanding makers have become newly invigorated. In part I think some their strength is being derived from the weak dollar. European cheese costs a lot more than it did a few years ago. Next to a $35 per pound English Cheddar, American farmhouse cheese at $25 a pound looks like a relative bargain and more is certainly being sold because of price. But a lot of the success is thanks to hard work. When the dollar strengthens again we'll continue to have a much more diverse cheese landscape in America than we did before.

I think it's important to note that these cheeses might not have become great if it weren't for trade with Europe. There are simplistic arguments for local eating that miss out on the benefits everyone gets from trade. Because we can sell great cheese from Britain and Italy and elsewhere, because we developed a taste and awareness for this kind of cheese, because we created a market for greatness, we've built a foundation for great cheese to grow in America. U.S. farmers and entrepreneurs tasted, learned, and worked to make something as good as what Europe offered. Today a few American makers are creating cheese as good as you can eat anywhere. Imagine how much longer it would take if we had a closed market and we couldn't import these great cheeses to learn from? A bit of global trade helps local flavor.

I've added some photos from the trips to Montgomery's Cheddar and Linconlshire Poacher.