Sauteed Brussel Sprouts with Pine Nuts, Raisins, and Two Cheeses

Yesterday I encountered a new feeling, one I haven't sensed since living in Paris.  Arriving back in town after 3 weeks in Boston with my family, I looked around at the familiar-looking buildings and streets, the ones that I have come to love and accept in my life like friendly neighbors.  Hoping to relive the excited, almost virginal appreciation for these structures that I felt upon my initial arrival in town, I instead felt a distant coldness emanating from these gorgeous Haussmanian constructs.  Maybe this harshness I sensed was the brutally cold weather that has overtaken Europe over the past few weeks, but I'm pretty sure it was more.  Coming back to Paris after a few weeks surrounded by people I love and know very deeply, I was a stranger in a strange city, and even the beautiful surroundings failed to make me feel at home.

I was confronted with a question I had managed to avoid during my last semester here - why did I move far away from everyone I care about and all of the places I know so well, only to live alone and struggle to make new friends, a new life, and a new daily routine? The answer is still unclear to me, but I know I thrived on the liberation I felt in coming to a country where I would be confronted with fresh eyes and new challenges like speaking a different language every day.  There is no past for me to worry about here, with an entirely new group of faces I see regularly and an unquestioning, uninquisitive crowd.  Whether the events of hurt and shame from days before really are worth my anxiety and time is of little importance; these moments have been skewed and morphed in my mind and memory as occurences of utmost consequence, which could easily help every glance in my direction to pass judgement based on mistakes I've made some unknown time before.  I'm sure I'll come to terms with whatever is gripping me from before as time goes on and wounds are healed.  In the meantime, I'm ecstatic to have the opportunity to live here and breathe in the newness and wonder of it all.  I'm having the time of my life in this beautiful city where I can bask in all the excitement and opportunity I see around me.

And what do I see most of the time?  During this winter season, it's mostly broccoli, brussel sprouts, carrots, chestnuts, leeks, oranges, clementines, and pears.  In the springtime, I expect to see a much more varied array of raw ingredients which help to create sensations of elation and joy on the palate.  Today I went to my favorite place in Paris, La Grande Epicerie, and re-established my routine from last semester of pacing slowly around the store while making small talk with the vendors (pour se sentir de la joie de communiquer en français) and smelling various ingredients to inhale their freshness and understand their essence. 

For lunch I decided to showcase one of my favorite winter ingredients, brussel sprouts, which have a naturally nutty flavor, and when steamed long enough, are so tender and adorable it is hard not to make coo-coo eyes at them while on the plate.  This rendition is fairly low-cal, but certainly substantial enough for a light lunch.  I used 12 brussel sprouts, which was enough for me, but I think I could have even used up to 16-18 and I wouldn't have felt too full.  Also, please take the cheese measurements liberally - feel free to increase the amounts to 3 tablespoons if you'd like something richer and creamier.  Thanks, and enjoy!

Sauteed Brussel Sprouts with Pine Nuts, Raisins, and Two Cheeses - serves 1

1 tbsp olive oil
12 brussel sprouts (you can use more or less, but this is a pretty good base number)
1 small fistful of pine nuts
1 small fistful of golden raisins (dark ones are fine too)
1 1/2-tbsp crumbled goat cheese
1 1/2-tbsp freshly grated parmesan

1.  Wash and dry the brussel sprouts.  Cut off a bit of the stem, and split each brussel sprout in two.  In a medium bowl, toss the brussel sprouts with the olive oil, a generous sprinkle of salt, and pepper. 
2.  Heat a large skillet to medium-high heat.  Once hot, add the brussel sprouts, cut-side down, cover, reduce heat to medium and cook for about 8-10 minutes, or the sprouts are slightly softened (test firmness by piercing with a fork).  Turn them over, and continue cooking over medium heat, covered, until the brussel sprouts can be easily pierced with a fork, about 5-6 minutes longer.
3.  Add the pine nuts and raisins.  Sautee until pine nuts are lightly toasted and raisins are softened, about 4 minutes.
4.  Transfer to a bowl and sprinkle the two cheeses over the sprouts.  Season with additional salt and pepper if desired.


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