Witherspoon, who's been hopping around southern and central Oregon filming scenes for her next movie, "Wild," is a careful eater, reported my chef friend who never actually met Witherspoon but handed freshly prepared meals over to her "peeps" each evening.
One night the Hollywood star's request was for fish and vegetables, so the chef produced a grilled king salmon, herbed polenta and Brussels sprouts.
"The next night," the chef said, "she requested a double order of the Brussels sprouts," stating that they were incredible.
When I asked my Chef-Who-Will-Remain-Nameless (out of respect for Witherspoon's privacy), how those amazing Brussels sprouts are prepared at the mystery resort, here's what Mystery Chef had to say:
"I cut the Brussels sprouts in half and wedge out the core if it seems too thick. Then I toss them in the deep fryer until vibrant green and golden brown around the edges. Next I toss them with a bit of Kosher salt, pepper and fresh-squeezed lemon juice.
"I think it's better than popcorn."
Witherspoon apparently agrees.
"At home," said my chef friend, "without deep fryer access, I start with the same trimming prep, then I chop raw bacon into small dice and cook it in a saute pan. Once browned, I remove it and wipe out most of the bacon grease with a paper towel, then saute a chopped shallot in the pan, along with the Brussels sprouts, cut sides down, until they're caramalized (on the cut sides).
"If the sprouts are huge (that would be bigger than 1 1/2 inches in diameter), I cover the pan with a lid after caramelization has occurred, to steam until tender. Then I add the bacon back to the skillet and drizzle on aged balsamic over the whole thing.
"That's what I call the BBB: Bacon, Balsamic, and Brussels!"
The thing to keep in mind when selecting Brussels sprouts recipes is that there needs to be the culinary equivalent of a "snap" to the dish, such as lemon juice or balsamic vinegar.
Fried Brussels sprouts with hazelnuts and caper vinaigrette
Canola oil for deep-frying
2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
1 serrano chile, seeded and minced
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon honey
2 teaspoons Ponzu sauce (I use Kikkoman's)
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
2 green onions, white and pale green parts, thinly sliced
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 pound Brussels sprouts, trimmed and quartered lengthwise
2 cups loosely packed flat-leaf (Italian) parsley leaves
2 tablespoons capers, rinsed and patted dry
1/2 cup hazelnut kernels, roasted, skinned and coarsely chopped
Kosher salt and freshly
ground black pepper
Pour enough oil into a medium-sized, deep, heavy-bottomed pot to come 3 to 4 inches up the sides. Heat the oil to 350 degrees.
Meanwhile, whisk together the garlic, chile, vinegar, honey, Ponzu sauce and Dijon mustard. Add the green onions and olive oil and whisk again.
Once you begin frying the Brussels sprouts things will go quickly, so organize the cooking area: place the vinaigrette within arms reach; place several layers of paper towels on a baking sheet to drain the fried sprouts; place the serving bowl nearby, along with 2 spatulas and a wire skimmer.
Working in 2 or 3 batches (if you cook too many at a time the oil temperature plunges and you end up with soggy sprouts), deep-fry the sprouts until the edges begin to curl and the sprouts take on a golden blush, about 3 minutes, then remove all of the sprouts with the wire skimmer and place them on the paper towels to drain. About mid-way through the last batch add the dry parsley and capers (stay back; the capers will pop and sputter when they contact the hot oil). When the parsley brightens in color and the Brussels sprouts are golden, remove the contents with the wire skimmer and drain on the paper towels.
While the sprouts are still hot, tumble them into the serving bowl and toss with the vinaigrette, using the spatulas. Once the sprouts are evenly coated, toss again with the hazelnuts and some Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper.
Makes 4 to 6 servings.
Recipe adapted from "Live to Cook," by Michael Symon.
Chef Bobby Flay uses pecans, but here in the Pacific Northwest, I prefer the rich and smooth flavor of roasted hazelnuts. The slight tang from the pomegranate seeds and intensely flavored pomegranate molasses balance the rich and mellow flavor of the roasted Brussels sprouts.
Bobby Flay's roasted Brussels sprouts with pomegranates and vanilla-hazelnut butter
1 pound Brussels sprouts, trimmed and quartered lengthwise
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 vanilla bean
6 tablespoons butter, softened
1 tablespoon fresh orange zest
1 teaspoon fresh lime zest
1/2 cup hazelnut kernels, roasted, skinned and chopped
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
3 tablespoons pomegranate molasses (see note)
Seeds from 1 average-sized pomegranate (about 1 cup)
In a medium bowl, toss the Brussels sprouts with the olive oil and a sprinkling of salt and freshly ground black pepper. Spread the sprouts on a roasting pan and roast in a 375 degree oven until golden brown around the edges, about 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, slice open the vanilla bean lengthwise, spread it apart and scrape out the seeds. Add the seeds to the butter, along with the orange and lime zest, and roasted hazelnuts, mixing well to combine.
When the Brussels sprouts are roasted, remove the pan from the oven. While the sprouts are still very hot, spread the seasoned butter mixture over them and toss well to coat with the butter mixture. Sprinkle on the pomegranate seeds, and toss again, then drizzle on the pomegranate molasses and give the veggies a final toss before serving.
Note on Pomegranate molasses: You may be able to find this in a well-stocked supermarket. If not, it's easy to make. Place 4 cups of pomegranate juice in a 4-quart saucepan along with 1/2 cup granulated sugar and 1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice and bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring occasional until the sugar is dissolved. Reduce the heat to medium-low and cook until the mixture has reduced to 1 cup, which will take approximately 60 to 70 minutes (don't rush the process or you may scorch the molasses). An easy way to gauge 1 cup is to pour 1 cup of water into the pot before you begin to cook the juice. Place a chopstick or knife in the pot and note how far up the water reaches on the chopstick or knife. Mark the utensil with a pen or piece of tape. Pour out the water. Now you're ready to make the pomegranate molasses.
Makes 4 to 6 servings.
Roasted Brussels sprouts and garlic with balsamic reduction and dried cranberries
3 pounds Brussels sprouts
30 cloves (about) of garlic, peeled
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup balsamic vinegar essence (recipe follows)
Trim and halve the Brussels sprouts. Place them in a large bowl, along with the peeled whole garlic cloves and toss with the olive oil and a sprinkling of salt and pepper. Divide the vegetables between two baking sheets. Roast in a 375 degree oven until browned, about 25 to 30 minutes.
Remove from oven and drizzle with the balsamic vinegar essence; toss to coat, then sprinkle on the dried cranberries and toss again before serving.
Makes 10 to 12 servings.
Balsamic vinegar essence
2 cups balsamic vinegar (you don't need to use the very good stuff!)
1/2 cup coarsely chopped yellow onion
2 teaspoons granulated sugar
In a medium-sized heavy-bottomed saucepan, combine the balsamic vinegar with the onion, sugar and peppercorns. Bring the mixture to a boil and simmer uncovered until the mixture has reduced down to about 1/2 to 1/3 cup and is thickened and somewhat syrupy. Strain through a fine sieve (be sure and press the onions with the back of a wooden spoon to squeeze out all of the juicy balsamic syrup). Let the mixture cool (it will thicken a bit more when chilled) and then store the reduction in a tightly closed jar or squeeze bottle with a slender spout. It will keep for months and months. Besides a wonderful accent to the roasted Brussels sprouts, use it to drizzle over tomatoes and fresh mozzarella, polenta, grilled chicken, vegetable saute or other roasted vegetables.
Makes about 1/2 cup.
"Oregon Hazelnut Country -- the Food, the Drink, the Spirit," by Jan Roberts-Dominguez.
Jan Roberts-Dominguez is a Corvallis, Ore., food writer, artist and author of "Oregon Hazelnut Country, the Food, the Drink, the Spirit," and four other cookbooks. Readers can contact her by email at email@example.com, or obtain additional recipes and food tips on her blog at www.janrd.com.
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