Produce Pete: Beat the Winter Blues with Brussels Sprouts

Everything you ever needed to know about Brussels sprouts—including how to store them, some fun facts and a recipe with pancetta.

Brussels sprouts
Produce Pete displays a stalk on which thick clusters of Brussels sprouts grow. Courtesy of Pete Napolitano/NBC 

A lot of people think of Brussels sprouts as cute little cabbages but prefer not to eat them, usually because they’ve only had them mushy and overcooked. Brussels sprouts should be steamed or simmered very briefly until they’re just beyond raw. That keeps them nice and green on the outside, a beautiful white inside, and delicious—trust me!

The Backstory

Brussels sprouts are the newest member of the cabbage family—a mere 200 years old—compared to head cabbage, which has been cultivated for thousands of years. Brussels sprouts, which grow clustered on a thick stalk, are most often sold loose or packaged in pint cartons. In the fall (and around the holidays), you may see them fresh on the stem, especially at local farm stores. Buy them that way when you can, because they’re at their freshest and will stay fresh a lot longer than cut sprouts. If you have room, put the whole stalk in the refrigerator; they’ll keep a long time without wilting or yellowing.

Season, Selection, Storage

Brussels sprouts are available most of the year, but they thrive in cold, damp weather and are best in late fall and early spring. Brussels sprouts from California—-the biggest producer—are available from October through March. High-quality sprouts are also grown on Long Island and in Upstate New York, and these are most likely to be on the market in the fall.

 When selecting, look for fresh green sprouts free of wilt, yellowing or spots, and buy them on the stalk when you can. Cut Brussels sprouts will last up to a week in the refrigerator and even longer if still on the stem.

10 Fun Facts About Brussels Sprouts

  • Brussels sprouts are named for Brussels, the capital of Belgium, where they were a popular 16th-century crop.
  • The Brussels sprout was introduced to North America by 18th Century French settlers in Louisiana.
  • By the early 1900s, the little vegetable became an established commercial crop in California.
  • The U.S. produces 70 million pounds of Brussels sprouts each year.
  • Brussels sprouts look like mini cabbages because they’re members of the same cruciferous vegetable family.
  • Colorful purple sprouts are a hybrid developed from purple cabbage in the 1940s.
  • At just 26 calories per cup, Brussels sprouts are delicious, nutritious and are believed to offer protection against cancer, high blood pressure, heart disease and diabetes. They are high in fiber, protein and antioxidants. One 80-gram serving delivers four times more vitamin C than an orange.
  • Brussels sprouts stay fresh in a plastic bag in the refrigerator vegetable drawer for as long as 10 days.
  • Carving an X in the bottom of the stems before steaming helps them cook more evenly.
  • A sulfur-like smell is a sure sign the sprouts have been overcooked.

Preparation

Brussels Sprouts

A rich source of fiber, protein, antioxidants and vitamin C, Brussels sprouts are a tasty and delicious vegetable that help protect against heart disease, diabetes and cancer. Courtesy of Susan Bloom

Tiny Brussels sprouts are very sweet and delicious when eaten raw; try adding them to a platter of crudites or to a green salad. This versatile veggie also tastes great grilled, stir-fried or roasted, and its size makes it a perfect snack food.

To cook, first rinse, remove any wilted or yellow leaves, and score the stem ends with a knife. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat, add the sprouts and cook just until tender, about 7-10 minutes.

To steam, place in a steamer basket over, but not touching, boiling water, then cover and steam just until tender but still firm (al dente, as the Italians say), about 10-15 minutes. Do not overcook! You should be able to pierce each sprout easily with a cooking fork.

My wife, Bette, makes a very tasty and easy Brussels sprouts dish with pancetta that we love. Hope you enjoy the delicious and nutritious benefits of these bite-size beauties!

Bette’s Best Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Pancetta

Yields 4 servings

  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • ½ pound pancetta
  • 4 tablespoons butter
  • 1 pound Brussel sprouts, trimmed and halved
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Heat oil in a large skillet. Add the pancetta and cook until crisp and golden brown. Remove the pancetta to a lined plate with paper towels. Add the Brussels sprouts, butter and pancetta to a skillet, season with salt and pepper, and stir until well coated. Place everything in a roasting pan and roast in the oven until the sprouts are cooked through and golden brown. Remove from the oven and serve warm.


About “Produce Pete” Napolitano
With over 65 years of experience in the produce industry, New Jersey’s own “Produce Pete” Napolitano is a renowned fruit and vegetable expert, author and TV personality who’s appeared on a highly-popular segment on NBC’s Weekend Today in New York broadcast Saturday mornings for over 28 years. For more information, visit producepete.com.

About Susan Bloom
A regular contributor to New Jersey Monthly and other well-known local and national publications, Susan Bloom is an award-winning New Jersey-based freelance writer who covers topics ranging from health and lifestyle to business, food and more. She’s collaborated with Produce Pete on a broad range of articles for over a decade.

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