I am an avid Brussels sprouts lover. I just cannot understand why so often they are only eaten at and associated with Christmas. Perhaps it’s because when they are in the ground, the stalk or ‘leg’ (as it’s sometimes called) with the sprouts growing all the way up can almost resemble a Christmas tree. The temperature does need to drop before you should pick and eat them as once they’ve come into contact with frost, the starches convert to sugar making the sprouts sweeter and much more flavoursome.
One of my very favourite green vegetables, sprouts are not only super versatile but completely delicious and downright nutritious too. If you’re stumped for inspiration when it comes to cooking sprouts just think of them as the mini cabbages that they really are and experiment with them galore. I love to cut them in half and roast them with a glug of olive oil, some flakes of sea salt and coarsely cracked pepper. They are also wonderful in stir-fries and other East and Southeast Asian dishes as they are like sponges for soaking up strong punchy flavours like soy and chilli. I also adore a Brussels sprout purée; just boil your sprouts in salted water until tender then drain well and purée with a dash of cream and a small knob of butter. Reheat to serve.
And when it comes to soup, Brussels sprouts are so happy to be included. I love this smooth, silky number that’s topped with sticky caramelised bacon, another ingredient that goes so well with our lovely sprouts, and crunchy roasted hazelnuts- now there’s a perfect wintery pick-me-up.
And if you have any leftover cooked sprouts from Christmas Day or any other, they’ll work perfectly here, just cook them for a fraction of the time in the soup as they only need to reheat. Now that’s a sustainable and delicious Christmas.
Brussels Sprout Soup with Candied Bacon and Roasted Hazelnuts
175g peeled and diced potatoes
175g peeled and diced onions
salt and freshly ground pepper
400g Brussels sprouts
1.1 litres chicken stock
250ml cream or milk, or a mixture
For the roasted hazelnuts:
For the candied bacon:
25g soft light brown sugar, such as light Muscovado sugar
6 slices of streaky bacon (smoked if you wish)
First, make the soup. Melt the butter in a large saucepan over a medium heat. When it foams, add the potatoes and onions, season with salt and pepper, and stir to mix. Cover with a butter wrapper or a piece of parchment paper, then turn the heat down to low, cover with the saucepan lid and cook on a gentle heat for 10 minutes, stirring every few minutes to prevent the vegetables sticking and burning.
While the potatoes and onions are cooking, prepare the sprouts. Trim the base, remove and discard the outer two or three leaves, and slice the sprouts thinly. Set aside.
When the potatoes and onions have been cooking for 10 minutes, add the chicken stock and boil for 2–3 minutes, until the potatoes are tender.
Add the sliced sprouts to the pan and cook over a high heat, with the lid off, until tender, approximately 2–3 minutes. Do not overcook, or the sprouts will lose their fresh colour and flavour. Add the cream or milk and blend until smooth. If you want the soup to be a bit thinner, add a little more stock. Taste for seasoning.
To prepare the hazelnuts and the bacon, preheat the oven to 200°C/180°C fan/gas 6.
Place the hazelnuts on a baking tray and roast in the preheated oven for 6–8 minutes, checking regularly, as they can burn quickly. To test them, take the tray out of the oven and carefully rub the skins off a few of them – the nuts should be golden underneath. When ready, tip them out of the tray and on to a clean tea towel, and rub to remove the skins. Discard the skins and chop the nuts coarsely. Set aside until you’re ready to use them.
To make the candied bacon, line a baking tray with a sheet of parchment paper. Place the brown sugar in a bowl and dip both sides of the streaky bacon in it so that they are completely coated. Use a little more sugar if you need to. Cook for 5–6 minutes in the preheated oven, until the bacon is caramelized on both sides. Remove from the oven and leave until cool and crisp. Once crisp, break the bacon, or snip with scissors, into pieces about 1cm in size.
Reheat the soup gently until steaming, then pour into bowls and scatter over the roasted hazelnuts and candied bacon. Serve immediately.
For a vegetarian version, you can use vegetable stock instead of chicken, and omit the candied bacon.
If this soup is to be reheated, just bring it to steaming point and serve. Prolonged boiling spoils the colour and flavour of green soups and also this soup’s smooth, silky texture.