Some of you are dying to know how I prepared the sweet-and-sour Brussels sprouts mentioned in my earlier posts. I will use that as a roundabout way of introducing my latest most favorite book whose title I don't need to repeat because it is so vividly displayed in the photograph at left.
I heard the author, Jack Staub, on the Diane Rehm show and he sounded so Victorian, like such a throwback, and so passionate about his vegetables in a 19th Century sort of way, that I had to look up his book. I didn't need any convincing. I ordered a copy and boy, was I not disappointed. Even if you don't bother to actually plant any vegetables, if you just like eating them and knowing about them, this is a book worth owning and keeping close to you at all times. Who knows? You might run across some of these at a farmer's market and you will be so proud of yourself for knowing something about them when others are just ogling them.
"I concede immediately that, while I have attempted to make this volume unique in content and tone, I have, in truth, had a singularly superb model for it," Staub writes in his introduction. "In fact, I have been sorely tempted to entitle this work Eminent Vegetables, so highly do I esteem Lytton Strachy's brilliant Eminent Victorians, that early twentieth-century paragon of biographical brevity and wit."
Who says that vegetables cannot be literary?
With its etched lettering, the hardcover binding has the look of a first-edition copy of Gulliver's Travels or The Wizard of Oz. The book is small, novel size. The illustrations, one for each vegetable, are simple, painted drawings, almost like a botanist's handbook. And the descriptions of each vegetable follow in that Victorian manner with brevity and dry wit.
I was most pleased to note that I have owned and planted many of these vegetables already: the Australian Yellow Leaf Lettuce, the Chiogga Beet, Lollo Rossa Lettuce, Mizuna, Red Burgundy Okra. But now I am anxious to acquire Cardoon Gigante, Chinese Rat Tail Radish, Early Purple Vienna Kohlrabi.
It is so hard not to be excited about vegetables after reading about them in such devoted portraiture.
Which brings me to the Brussels sprouts. Staub rhapsodizes about Brussels Sprout 'Rubine.' I have grown a more pedestrian variety. Now, or couple of weeks ago, would have been the time to plant seedlings in the garden for an early summer harvest. Otherwise, they are a cool weather vegetable.
My method of cooking them sweet-and-sour style is as follows: For a pound or so of sprouts, cut off the tough root part and slice the sprout in half lengthwise. Discard any loose or damaged leaves. Drop the halved sprouts into a large pot of boiling, salted water and cook until just tender. Test for doneness by piercing a sprout with a metal trussing skewer. It should slide through the sprout without a terrible amount of effort.
Plunge the cooked sprouts immediately into a large bowl of cold water in the kitchen sink to stop the cooking process. Now spread the sprouts out on some paper towels and pat them dry. Meanwhile, coat the bottom of an iron skillet liberally with extra-virgin olive oil and heat over a moderately high flame until the oil just begins to smoke.
Fill the bottom of the skillet with sprout halves, cut side down, and sear until the sprouts are well browned, adding olive oil if the cooking sound is too tacky or dry. Toss and cook another minute. Now douse the sprouts liberally with red wine vinegar. There will be a great noise, with much hissing and steam. When this subsides, season with salt and pepper. Then dust the sprouts with granulate sugar. Toss them again, swishing everything around. Empty the sprouts onto a platter and continue the process until all of the sprouts are done. Serve warm.