Brussels and Nero

Lynda Brown - 21 December 2012

Last night found me at a great Christmas gig given by The Sustainable Food Trust. Great because it gave me a rare chance to meet and chat to a bunch of people who all share a common vision, namely making the world a more sustainable place (spent ages engrossed in discussing Joanna Blythman’s counter in the Daily Mail, to this week’s green light on GM foods by the Environment Secretary Owen Paterson, who not only seems to want to endorse GM foods and wants them grown and sold in Britain, but doesn’t see the necessity of labeling them, thereby robbing us of any choice).

Great because it was a homely affair – a real home with real fires and people of all ages including the neighbours’ kids; and great because we were treated to proper delicious and utterly British seasonal organic home-cooked grub. For me, this really was the icing on the cake: there is simply something very special about eating a totally organic meal which lifts the ordinary into the heavenly.

Enter Brussels and Nero, a yummy combo of shredded Cavalo Nero cabbage and Brussels sprouts. This morning got me on the phone to Aine, who cooked this particularly heavenly mix; and, as we’ll all be wondering as usual what to do with our sprouts this Christmas, I thought it would be a good moment to pass it on. It’s an excellent way to cook veg anyway, so useful all ways round.

The quantities don’t matter – use your eye, though I think about equal quantities of sprout and Nero are about right. You could also use Swiss chard or kale instead of Nero. The cooking times of the Nero will depend on how much bulk you have: aim for 5 minutes for smaller quantities and not more than 10 for an industrial bowl full. Shred your Cavalo Nero and preheat a wok or large frying pan with some oil in the bottom (I use olive oil). Pile in the Nero, stir it around, turn the heat down to very low, put on a lid, and let the Nero sweat gently for about 5-10 mins, giving it a shake or stir now and then. In the meantime, blanch your sprouts (3-4 mins if small, no more than 5 mins if large): you do not want them soggy, more ‘al dente’. Drain and plunge into cold water, then shred.

To finish, mix the sprouts with the Nero, turn up the heat, and add the magic ingredients that give it its savoury, moreish edge: a good splash of decent red wine vinegar and sprinkling of brown sugar (1-2 tsp for a large quantity). Stir until both the excess moisture and vinegar evaporates, and serve.

As Aine told me, you can flavour this mixture any way you want: adding seasonal nuts for a veggy main course version; grated carrot for extra sweetness; pancetta ; left over turkey (!); ginger, cinnamon, or nutmeg for that Chrissy feel; or ginger, garlic, chili for a mid week warmer.

Next on my must try list is their fabulous organic beef braise. In the meantime Happy Sustainable Christmas everyone – and for our Planet’s and our health’s sake, let’s all keep GM foods off our menus.

Lynda is an award-winning food writer and broadcaster, and keen advocate for organic living. She is author of several food books over the last twenty years including Planet Organic: Organic Living, The Cook's Garden, and The Modern Cook's Handbook, as well as writing The Preserving Book that was published in 2010 in association with the Soil Association. Lynda is an expert on food and nutrition and a seasoned broadcaster, regularly speaking on food and farming both on the radio and television.

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