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Wednesday 19 December 2012

Sluttery Christmas: We Can Make You Love Sprouts

Yes, it's true: like a culinary Paul McKenna, I am going to change your perception of the humble Brussels sprout FOREVER. Begone, mushy festive obligation. Hello, sprouts you'll want to eat all year round...

I've kept these recipes as simple as possible, since it's going to be Christmas Day and I don't want to be the cause of sprout-related nervous breakdowns/family discord. Sprouts are delicious, but not divorce-worthy. If your oven isn't already full to bursting, I urge you to give the gratin or stalk-roasted sprouts a go. If that's an oven shelf too far, stick to the hob with a sprouty mash or stir-fry.

Veggies: I've sneaked crispy pancetta into or onto almost everything, because I'm a sucker for the combination of bacon + sprout - it's by no means an essential ingredient, though, so you can leave it out. I'd just add a little more salt, to taste, to compensate for pancetta's natural saltiness. I've made all four recipes ginormous enough to feed eight, but all respond well to division and multiplication, depending on the size of your Christmas clan.

First up is a sprout gratin. Everything is made better with the addition of cream, parmesan, and breadcrumbs.

Sprout Gratin (serves 8)

You'll need:
  • 1 kg sprouts, stalk trimmed, outer leaves removed, and cut in half
  • 450ml double cream
  • 200g diced pancetta, lardons, or thick-cut back bacon cut into chunky strips
  • 3 tsp lemon juice (bottled or fresh)
  • 8 tbsp white breadcrumbs (I used half normal breadcrumbs, half panko - use whatever you have lying around!)
  • 6 tbsp grated parmesan 
  • 1 clove garlic, peeled and finely chopped
  • A bay leaf
  • A knob of butter and a splash of olive oil for frying
  • Salt and pepper to taste
Make it!
  1. Preheat the oven to 200°C/400°F/Gas Mark 6.
  2. Blanch your sprouts by boiling them for 3-4 minutes in a pan of salty water, and then draining and rinsing under the cold tap.
  3. Heat the butter and oil in a large frying pan and fry the pancetta cubes until quite crispy (around 4 minutes over a medium to high heat). Stir regularly as they will catch the moment you turn your back. They don't know it's Christmas and that everyone, including bacon, better be on their best behaviour. Set aside a couple of tablespoons of cooked pancetta to use as a garnish later. 
  4. Add the sprouts and garlic and sauté for 2 minutes. Stir CEASELESSLY.
  5. Pour in the cream, add the bay leaf, and boil for about 3 minutes, until it has reduced to a thickish sauce. Season.
  6. Take the pan off the ring, remove the bay leaf, and add the lemon juice. Decant the mixture into an ovenproof dish.
  7. Mix together the breadcrumbs and parmesan, and sprinkle all over the top of your creation. Bake for 15-20 minutes, until the crust has turned an appetising shade of golden brown.
  8. Sprinkle the remaining pancetta pieces across the top, and serve.
  9. Feel immensely smug.
When in doubt, MASH. Sprouts are fantastic mashed, and the addition of a little nutmeg here makes them all the more festive. I like my sprout mash to be borderline-baby food smooth (it's more of a purée, really), but you can make it whatever texture you prefer - just keep an eye on it while it's in the food processor.

Sprout & Chestnut Mash (serves 8)

You'll need:

  • 1kg sprouts, trimmed and halved
  • 200g chopped chestnuts (I use Merchant Gourmet's vaccum-packed ready-prepared chestnuts. Because, honestly, who the hell can be bothered arsing around with oven-roasted chestnuts on Christmas Day? Thought not)
  • 150ml double cream
  • 50g unsalted butter
  • 2 tsp ground nutmeg
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 75g pancetta, to serve (optional)
Make it!
  1. Cook the sprouts in a large pan of salty boiling water for 5 or 6 minutes. 
  2. In a saucepan, melt the butter and cream S-L-O-W-L-Y over a gentle heat. 
  3. Bung the drained sprouts, chestnuts, cream, nutmeg, and seasoning into the food processor and whizz until it's reached your ideal mash consistency.
  4. Fry up your pancetta - if using - in a little oil, and sprinkle over the top of your mash.
Next up, a delicious way to serve sprouts in all their weird, knobbly glory. This will make a spectacular centrepiece on your Christmas table.

Stalk-roasted Sprouts with a Maple & Cranberry Glaze (serves 8)

You'll need:
  • 1 stalk of sprouts, rinsed and with any manky bits trimmed off (Buy one that looks like it might fit in your oven. In other words, don't be like me)
  • 180ml maple syrup
  • 60ml olive oil
  • 100g fresh cranberries
  • Salt and pepper to taste
Make it!
  1. Preheat the oven to 200°C/400°F/Gas Mark 6.
  2. In a very large pot of salted boiling water, cook the sprout stalk for 3-4 minutes (you'll probably need to do one end, then flip the stalk and cook the other end - if so, cook each end for 3-4 minutes).
  3. Whisk together the maple syrup and olive oil.
  4. Lay the sprout stalk on a baking tray, and pour the mapley-oily mixture all over it. Use a pastry brush to really coat each sprout. Liberally season with salt and pepper.
  5. Scatter the cranberries over the sprouts and the baking tray. 
  6. Bake for 45 minutes, or until the sprouts are coming away easily from the stalk (test one from the underside).
  7. Pour more of your syrupy goodness and cranberries over the sprouts before serving, and serve the rest of the mixture in a small jug.
Finally, what could be easier than a simple stir-fry? Something about the gin really enhances the flavour of the sprouts (or it might just be the fact that I haven't had a drink since January...). I can imagine a smoky whisky would work well here, too.

Gin, Ginger & Garlic Stir-fried Sprouts (serves 8)

You'll need:
  • 1 kg sprouts, trimmed and halved
  • 200g diced pancetta
  • 5 tbsp gin
  • 400ml chicken stock, made up as per packet instructions
  • 4 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped
  • 4 tsp chopped or finely sliced ginger (fresh or bottled)
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Butter and oil for frying
Make it!
  1. Fry the pancetta in a little butter and oil. Once approaching crispy, throw in the sprouts, garlic, and ginger. Stir-fry for a couple of minutes. 
  2. Add the gin - SIZZLE SIZZLE - and allow it to boil down for a minute. 
  3. Pour in the stock and lemon juice, and simmer until the sprouts are soft (but not too soft!) and flavoursome. Season to taste. 
May all your Christmases be sprouty!  


  1. I buy one every year and wrap it in twinkly lights and have it stood in a pot in our hallway. Our sprout tree is beautiful and people love it!

  2. That gratin is totally getting in my belly.


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