It may be the depths of winter but it will not be very long at all until it is time to start sowing Brussels sprouts. This is how the year turns and surprises us: come February, just a few short weeks away, it will be time to sow. I realise I must get my early-sowing skates on and get prepared for such things, ordering seed and clearing space in the greenhouse, but right now I am more concerned with propping up my existing Brussels sprout plants in order to harvest and make use of the last of them. If you were designing a plant that needed to stand on a vegetable plot all winter you would steer well clear of the Brussels sprouts model.
Not only are they tall and decidedly bad at supporting their own weight, but the sprouts are harvested from the bottom of the stem up, making them ever increasingly top heavy as winter goes on. They buffet about in the slightest breeze, let alone a full January gale. Inevitably what I consider sturdy and almost over the top in terms of support when I plant them out reveals itself to be flimsy and wholly inadequate by January, and I have gone in with a few fortifications this week: lashing the plants to chunky lengths of chestnut pole to stop the last few sprouts from keeling over into the mud. Not that there are a great many left now, but it would be a shame to waste them, especially as by now they have had the requisite number of frosts to make them properly sweet and lovely.
I realise not everyone shares my love of sprouts, though I think you’re all mad. I have loved them since I as a (maybe slightly odd) child, and never understood what all the fuss was about: sweet and nutty and smothered in butter, lovely. My own children don’t feel the same, annoyingly. I like sprouts every way – just steamed, all clean and healthy, as well as chopped up and sautéed in butter so that they take on caramelised and distinctly unhealthy crispy edges. But at this time of year I am also making them into winter coleslaws, which they really suit, as they are far less tough and less tiring to munch raw than some of the cabbages by this point of winter. This slaw contains lots of other colourful wintry veg plus fruit and nuts too, which makes for an interesting mix of flavours and feels like a good post-Christmas boost of vitamins. Miracle of miracles, my children will very much eat sprouts shredded and disguised this way.
Sprout winter slaw
This makes a big bowlful perfect for a family gathering but if there are fewer of you eating then just halve the amounts. It will keep ok for a day in the fridge but it really at its best freshly made.
- 200g sprouts, cleaned and trimmed
- 1 large carrot, peeled
- 2 cauliflower florets
- 1/8 of a red cabbage
- 1 red apple
- 40g walnut pieces, toasted
- 40g pumpkin seeds, toasted
For the dressing
- 300ml crème fraiche
- Juice of half a lemon
- 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
- ½ tsp English mustard
- Salt and pepper
Either by hand or using a food processor grate the sprouts (much easier with a food processor, you may need to finely slice two ways if chopping by hand) and the red cabbage, carrot and apple. Cut the stalk from the florets of cauliflower and break each up into tiny mini florets. Tip all into a big bowl and add the walnuts and pumpkin seeds. Mix all of the ingredients for the dressing and season to taste, then tip it over, stir in, and serve.