Friday, December 17, 2010

Well, I'm Glad I Made That

I originally planned to make pasta with Brussels sprouts, walnuts, and parmesan for very practical reasons: The dish would use up the 1/2 pound or so of sprouts hanging out in the crisper and provide a vegetable in the entree as well as the salad. I had no idea that I, and my man, would love it so much.

Oh, I felt sure that I would like the combination, or I wouldn't have chosen to make it dinner's star. I like Brussels sprouts, and how could they suffer from being thinly sliced and sauteed in olive oil and butter? (I don't know why, but sauteed sprouts seem to taste better when they're somewhat shredded. Is it just me?) I like walnuts, too. Parmigiano, I love. The whole party sounded like a win-win-win.

And it was. But not a simple, solid, that'll do win. It was the kind of winning dish which prompts those instinctive noises of satisfaction. (You know the ones. I am not going to try to spell them.) From the moment that the first bite entered my mouth, I liked it. No taste blooming, chewing, or thinking required. That, I didn't expect.

We kept on liking it, intensely and vocally, until our bowls were empty. Who knew that a Brussels sprout-based entree could be that good? I didn't, and I thought I liked the little buggers. Apparently, their vegetal potential has been way too under-rated in my life.

In fact, tasting the sprouts without the pasta made me think that they would be good cooked this way as a side dish. So the yum factor had nothing much to do with the belly-sating powers of the noodles. This dish simply let the little ole sprouts shine brighter than I knew they could.

That sum-greater-than-parts goodness wasn't missed by Molly over at Orangette, which is where I found the idea. She got it from a friend, who got it from Gourmet. It was of course tweaked at each step along the way to me, and I tweaked it myself. My old buddies the walnuts subbed for the pricey pine nuts, and I forgot to buy the cream so I skipped it.

OK. That's not true. I tried a smidge of milk instead, but it was both a waste of time (Is there really any substitute for real cream?) and unnecessary. I ended up scooping the sprouts out of the pitifully inappropriate liquid result of my experiment and still loving them. Obviously, I needn't have bothered. Molly had added the cream for her own reasons anyway. See? We all get to do our own thing.

Oh, and let's not forget that it's my other favorite thing after good--EASY. I mean, you slice and saute some sprouts, throw them on top of cooked noodles along with some nuts and cheese, and voila! Inordinate goodness. Now there's everything to love about Pasta with Brussels Sprouts, Walnuts, and Parmesan.

I don't know where I'm going with this now (except bed, soon). The important thing to remember is that you want to eat this dish. You may not know it yet, but you do. Your taste buds will thank me in chorus with the first bite.

Pasta with Brussels Sprouts, Walnuts, and Parmesan

Serves: 4

4 tablespoons walnuts
3/4 pound Brussels sprouts
1/2 pound long pasta (linguine or fettucine)
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons butter
1/2 teaspoon salt
Fresh ground pepper
Parmigiano-Reggiano, grated, for topping

Toast the walnuts in a skillet or in the oven at 350 degrees until they are golden and fragrant. This step will take about 10 minutes in the oven.
Skillet toasting tends to bore me, so I don't know how long that would take. Mere minutes, I'm sure. If you choose the skillet method, you can reuse it for the sprout cooking. If you're really cheating, spread the nuts out in the microwave and zap on high for a minute or so. Whatever your method, set the toasted nuts aside.

Put a large pot of salted water on to boil over high heat.

While the water is coming to a boil, trim, halve, and thinly slice the Brussels sprouts, grate the Parmigiano, and gather your other ingredients, however few.

When the water comes to a boil, put the pasta in to cook, following package directions.

While the pasta cooks, prepare the Brussels sprouts. Warm the olive oil and butter in a skillet over medium-high heat. Add the Brussels sprouts and salt, and cook, stirring frequently, until the sprouts are bright green and tender.

When the pasta is done, reserve a 1/4 cup or so of the pasta water and drain. Add the reserved pasta water to the sprout mixture. Place noodles on your (warmed, surely) plates and top with the Brussels sprouts, Parmigiano, and walnuts. Then eat and be amazed.

Dinner tonight: Sausage, mushroom, zucchini, and cheddar frittata; arugula, red pear, and sliced almond salad with mustard pot dressing; red-wine poached pears with vanilla ice cream.

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