Brussels Sprouts with Pancetta, Grilled Baby Bok Choy with Miso Butter, and Roasted Broccolini: Excerpts from Brassicas

Excerpted from Brassicas: Cooking the World’s Healthiest Vegetables: Kale, Cauliflower, Broccoli, Brussels Sprouts and More by Laura B. Russell. Copyright © 2014 by Laura B. Russell. Reprinted by arrangement with Ten Speed Press. All rights reserved. Support your local bookstore, or buy the book through our affiliate link at 


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Kale has taken the world by storm and there’s hardly a restaurant around that doesn’t have Brussels sprouts on the menu.  The rising popularity of brassicas (including cauliflower, broccoli, cabbage, mustard greens, and more) is not only due to their extraordinary health benefits and “superfood” status, but also a growing appreciation for how great they taste when properly prepared.

Brassicas are nutritional powerhouses chock-full of vitamins, minerals, and sulfur-rich phytonutrients.  Their health benefits are enormous, and now the ways to enjoy them are equally boundless.  Laura B. Russell’s striking new cookbook invites home cooks of all levels to celebrate the world’s healthiest vegetables and their rich natural flavors.  From the inherent sweetness in roasted Brussels sprouts to a delightful peppery punch in watercress or arugula salad, Brassicas  unveils the beauty and bounty of these vegetables in a diverse range of recipes, including simple sides and salads, breakfast dishes, soups, snacks, and even smoothies!  Some recipes demonstrate the easiest way to enjoy a vegetable, such as simply sautéed kale, roasted rutabagas, or stir-fried bok choy.  Others, like a Moroccan-inspired braise of turnips and chickpeas, take a home-cooked meal to the next level without being overly complicated.

Each chapter is devoted to a single vegetable or class of brassicas (such as leafy brassicas, Asian brassicas, or root brassicas), beginning with key information on selection, preparation, and nutrition and followed by recipes that capture the best flavors that each has to offer—so even a beginner can feel confident in the kitchen.  Commonplace brassicas—such as broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, kale, and Brussels sprouts—take center stage and account for most of the recipes in the book, while other favorites, like collard greens, kohlrabi, and broccoli rabe, are showcased in ways that are equally enticing.  And for the harder-to-find vegetables (Chinese broccoli, mizuna, or tatsoi), Russell always offers accessible substitutes easily found at any supermarket.  With 35 gorgeous, full-color photographs and eighty delicious recipes, Brassicas is a feast for the eye as much as the palate.  From the innovative Roasted Radish Salad with Blue Cheese, to the Charred Brussels Sprouts with Pancetta and Fig Glaze, to the decadent Creamy Cauliflower Gratin, this book artfully inspires us with exciting new ways to finally do as we have always been told and (gladly) “eat more vegetables.”

BRAS Charred  Brussels Sprouts with Pancetta and Fig Glaze image p 59

Charred Brussels Sprouts with Pancetta and Fig Glaze

Serves 4

Nothing tastes better with Brussels sprouts than cured pork, which is why I unapologetically offer you recipes that flavor sprouts with both pancetta and bacon (page 61).  Here, the salty pancetta plays well with the sweetness from the fig jam, and you can finish the dish with a drizzle of balsamic vinegar to add a tangy note (see variations).  I found fig jam near the grocery store’s cheese counter (not in the jams and jellies aisle), but you could also try apricot or peach jam instead.  You may want to add a touch more jam than I suggest, but strive for a subtle sweetness rather than a cloying, sticky mess.

3 tablespoons olive oil (divided)
3 to 4 ounces pancetta, diced
1½ pounds Brussels sprouts, trimmed and halved (or quartered if large) through the stem end (about 6 cups)
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
2 tablespoons fig jam
1 tablespoon water
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

In a large (12 inches or wider) frying pan, heat 1 tablespoon of the oil over medium heat.  Add the pancetta and cook, stirring occasionally, for about 3 minutes, until crisp.  Using a slotted spoon, transfer the pancetta to a small bowl.  Return the pan to medium-high heat and add the remaining 2 tablespoons oil.  Add the Brussels sprouts, keeping them in a single layer as much as possible.  Having a few extra sprouts is fine, but if they are mounded in a pile, they will not brown or cook evenly.  If necessary, use a larger pan, cook them in two batches, or pull out the extra for another use.  Stir in the salt.  Cook, stirring occasionally, for about 10 minutes, until the Brussels sprouts are tender and well browned—even charred in spots.  If the sprouts are browning too quickly, lower the heat to medium.

Add the fig jam and the water and stir until the jam melts and coats the Brussels sprouts.  Add the reserved pancetta and the pepper and stir to combine.  Taste and add additional salt or pepper if needed.  Serve warm.

Variations for a sweet, salty, tangy version, add a drizzle (a teaspoon or less) of balsamic vinegar at the end.  Aged balsamic is an especially good choice.  Although I prefer pancetta here (I like its unsmoked rich pork flavor), you can use bacon in its place.

BRAS Grilled Baby Bok Choy with Miso Butter image p 121

Grilled Baby Bok Choy with Miso Butter

Serves 4

Boiling or steaming bok choy often results in a watery, stringy vegetable.  But grilling halved heads of bok choy slathered with miso butter leads to pure flavor.  Be sure to keep the heat at medium so the paste can caramelize without burning.  My first few attempts at grilling bok choy (I used Shanghai bok choy) resulted in charred leaves that were too crisp to enjoy.  Now I separate the leaves from the stalks and use them raw in a salad that wilts under the heat of the grilled vegetable.  Use white or yellow miso paste in this recipe. If you use a darker miso, know that it will be saltier.  Make this side dish when you are already firing up the grill for the main course.

1½ pounds baby bok choy (about 6 heads) or Shanghai bok choy
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
3 tablespoons white or yellow miso paste (see page 13)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
Pinch of kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper

Cut the leaves away from the bok choy stalks.  Halve the stalks lengthwise.  Rinse the leaves and stalks well, then pat dry to remove any excess water.  In a small bowl, mix together the butter and miso with a fork until well combined.  Set aside.

Prepare a medium-hot fire in a charcoal or gas grill.  Put the bok choy stalks in a large bowl.  Using your hands (or a fork), coat the bok choy with the miso butter.  Arrange the bok choy, cut side down, on the grill grate.  (If you have a grill screen, set it on top of the grate before adding the bok choy, to keep the stalks from falling through the gaps.)  Close the lid and grill for about 5 minutes, until golden brown on the underside.  Turn the bok choy with tongs, re-cover, and grill for 5 to 6 minutes more, until golden and crisp-tender.

While the stalks are cooking, stack the bok choy leaves and roll them up lengthwise into a cigar shape.  Slice the leaves crosswise into thin shreds.  Make a bed of the shredded leaves on a serving platter.  Drizzle the leaves with the oil and lemon juice, sprinkle with the salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper, and toss to combine.

Put the grilled bok choy on the dressed salad to wilt the leaves; sprinkle additional pepper over the bok choy. Serve immediately.

Miso Paste: A fermented paste that can range from sweet and mild to salty and pungent, miso is most commonly made from soybeans and rice, though some types include barley or other grains.  There are three basic types of miso: white miso is the mildest and sweetest, yellow miso is earthier and lightly salty, and red miso is typically quite salty and strong flavored.  Look for miso packaged in small plastic tubs or sturdy bags in the refrigerated section of grocery stores and Asian markets, often near the tofu.  It will keep refrigerated for up to 6 months.

BRAS Roasted Broccolini with Winey Mushrooms image p 86

Roasted Broccolini with Winey Mushrooms

Serves 4

My friend Danielle Centoni, Portland, Oregon, food writer and editor of Mix magazine, showed up at a potluck one day with a roasted broccolini dish similar to this one.  When I asked Danielle if she would share the recipe, she responded in a way that made me chuckle: “It’s very loosey-goosey.  I used what I had around.”  I rarely pay attention to quantities when I am throwing something together at home, either, but with Danielle’s guidance—and excellent memory—we were able to piece together what she had done.  The broccolini tastes great at room temperature, so you can cook it ahead of time, or you can make the mushroom sauce while the vegetables are roasting.

1½ pounds broccolini (2 large bunches), ends trimmed
4 tablespoons olive oil (divided)
1 teaspoon kosher salt (divided)
1 small sweet onion, finely diced
8 ounces cremini or other mushrooms, thinly sliced
¼ cup dry white wine or vermouth
¼  teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Grated Parmesan cheese, for serving (optional)

Preheat the oven to 400°F.  Put the broccolini on a baking sheet, drizzle with 2 tablespoons of the oil, sprinkle with ½ teaspoon of the salt, and toss to coat evenly, then spread in a single layer.  Roast the broccolini, turning once with tongs, for 10 to 15 minutes, until crisp-tender.  If the broccolini stems are not uniform in size, remove thinner ones as they are done.  Transfer the broccolini to a platter.  (The broccolini can be cooked several hours ahead of time and kept at room temperature.)

In a large (12 inches or wider), deep frying pan, heat the remaining 2 tablespoons oil over medium heat.  Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, for about 5 minutes, until starting to soften.  Raise the heat to medium-high, add the mushrooms and the remaining ½ teaspoon salt, and cook, stirring occasionally, for 7 to 10 minutes, until the mushrooms are golden brown.  (The mushrooms will release a lot of liquid before reabsorbing it and browning.  Be patient, as the flavor is in the browning.)  Add the wine and cook for about 2 minutes more, until the pan is dry.  Stir in the pepper.

Spoon the mushrooms over the broccolini, then scatter some Parmesan over the top.  Serve warm or at room temperature.

Variation: You can substitute broccoli for the broccolini.  Cut the whole broccoli head—crown and stalk—into long spears.

Laura B. Russell
is a food writer and recipe developer based in Portland, Oregon.  Laura is a “FoodDay” columnist for the
Oregonian, author of  The Gluten-Free Asian Kitchen , and former associate editor of  Food & Wine‘s cookbook division.  She has contributed articles and recipes to many food publications, including  Prevention, Living Without, Easy Eats, NW Palate and Portland’s  MIX magazine. 

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