Crusted Brussel Sprouts

Brussel sprouts . . . .the word sends chills down many people's spines, remembrances of being forced to finish the little green offenders as children haunting us still as adults. I had never tried them until recently, coming from a household that apparently wasn't too keen on them to begin with. I will admit that prepared in certain ways, the sprouts can have an unpleasantly bitter flavor, so the key is to eat them right away, while they are hot from the pan/oven. They are also really yummy raw, grated into salads with carrots and other root veggies, with a taste reminiscent of raw cabbage.

This preparation is quite minimal; make sure to choose small, tightly closed brussel sprouts. I used asiago cheese when I made these, but many cheeses will work here, especially harder and saltier cheeses, like Parmesan, Gruyere, sharp Cheddars, Gouda and Manchego. You can throw any number on toppings that would pair with the cheese of your choice . . . I like pine nuts, hazelnuts,walnuts on top and for the meat eaters, pancetta or bacon. Experiment with flavor combinations, brussels are available all winter long, being a winter green, so they're available fresh in markets for many months!

24 small brussels sprouts
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/3 cup grated cheese of your choice

Begin by washing your brussel sprouts well, trimming any outside raggedy leaves. Cut in half legnthwise and brush gently with olive oil, being careful to leave the halves intact.

Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a large skillet over medium-low heat. Make sure that the skillet isn't too hot, as it will cook the outer leaves too quickly. Place the brussels sprouts in the pan cut side down in a single layer, sprinkle with a couple pinches of salt, cover, and cook for about 5 minutes, checking every so often; the bottoms of the sprouts should brown only slightly. Cut into a sprout to test the tenderness; if it's still a bit hard, give it another 2 or 3 minutes.

Once tender and slightly browned, uncover, turn up the heat, and cook until cut sides are deep brown and caramelized. With a flat spatula or spoon, toss and tip to round sides to brown those slightly. Season right away off the heat with salt, pepper, and the cheese. Eat immediately.

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