Cookbooks are one of my weaknesses, and my family is well aware of this fact. I already wrote about the Dona Tomas cookbook Sam gave me for Christmas, and today I’m going to share about the cookbook my parents gave me for Christmas: Tender by Nigel Slater. The subtitle of Tender is A cook and his vegetable patch, which perfectly describes Nigel Slater’s journal entries and vignettes about cooking the vegetables he grows in his urban London garden.
A few weeks ago I turned to the Brussels sprouts chapter in Tender, hoping to find a creative way to perk up the tired-looking sprouts in my fridge. What I discovered was Nigel Slater’s recipe for Mashed Brussels Sprouts. Mashed Brussels sprouts? I thought. Is it even possible to mash Brussels sprouts? Maybe they’re mixed with mashed potatoes. I read the ingredient list. No potatoes; just Brussels sprouts, Parmesan, cream and nutmeg. It was apparent that these Brussels sprouts wouldn’t be mashed in the same way potatoes or butternut squash would be mashed, but the Parmesan, cream and nutmeg were intriguing. Eventually, the allure of a creamy, nutmeg-laced dish trumped my skepticism about the sprouts actually being mashed, and I forged ahead.
After briefly boiling the Brussels sprouts, I whirled them in a food processor to chop them. Then I mixed the sprouts with cream, Parmesan and nutmeg, patted them into a baking dish and topped them with breadcrumbs. In half an hour, the breadcrumbs were browned and crusty, and piping hot cream bubbled beneath the surface. No, these Brussels sprouts weren’t mashed, but they were creamy and crusty and pungent and nutmeg-y all at once. A worthy dish in any cook’s repertoire, and one I know I’ll be making again.
The first time I made this, we didn’t have any cream so I used whole milk instead. Whole milk is okay, but cream adds a silky richness that I prefer much more. In my version of Nigel Slater’s dish, I add a breadcrumb topping. Feel free to omit the topping if you prefer, but be sure to reserve some Parmesan to sprinkle over the top before baking.
Recipe adapted from Nigel Slater’s Tender.
Serves 4 as a side dish.
1 lb. Brussels sprouts, cleaned and trimmed
1/3 cup fine breadcrumbs
1 tablespoon butter, melted
2/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese, divided
½ cup heavy cream
a few rasps of freshly grated nutmeg
salt and pepper, to taste
Make the Brussels Sprouts au Gratin
Preheat oven to 350°F. Bring a large pot of unsalted water to a rolling boil. Add the Brussels sprouts and boil for 4-5 minutes until tender but not mushy.
Meanwhile, combine the breadcrumbs, melted butter and 2 tablespoons of the Parmesan cheese in a small bowl. Drain the Brussels sprouts and place in a food processor. Chop the Brussels sprouts until they are coarsely chopped, less than 1 minute.
In a medium bowl, combine the Brussels sprouts with the remaining Parmesan cheese, the heavy cream, nutmeg, salt and pepper. Scoop into a small baking dish (9×6”), pack down lightly and smooth out the top. Sprinkle evenly with the breadcrumb mixture. Bake for 25 minutes or until breadcrumbs begin to brown and cream bubbles beneath the surface.