Finding Spring in Brussels Sprouts and Leeks

We’ve had several days lately that have felt like spring —sun, blue sky, milder temperatures—but the garden is still producing winter vegetables and the first new greens and asparagus are a ways off.  What to do to make winter vegetables match this early taste of spring?  The answer was right in front of me with a basket of Brussels sprouts and leeks, both in shades of green and soft creamy yellow and looking more like spring than winter.

A friend has just given me some Meyer lemons from a backyard tree in Berkeley, CA, a treat we look forward to when Mary comes back from visiting her mom there. Meyer lemon vinaigrette on lightly roasted Brussels sprouts sounded perfect.  I pulled the outer leaves from the sprouts, quartered them because they were quite large, tossed them in a little olive oil, spread them out on a sheet pan and put them in a 400-degree oven.  They were crisp/soft in five or six minutes.

While they were roasting, I removed the zest from a lemon, squeezed out the juice and added it to the zest, added about a tablespoon of diced shallot, a dash of salt and some grinds of pepper and whisked in enough olive oil to make a thick dressing.  While the sprouts were still warm, I poured the dressing over them.  They were delicious warm and I knew they would be just as good at room temperature.

And the leeks?  Since the oven was already hot, roasting the leeks made sense too.  I cut them in half, arranged them on a sheet pan, oiled them lightly and roasted them at about 375 until they were soft, about half an hour.  Even the darker green upper shafts softened and released delicious leek flavor.  Their mild onion sweetness was a perfect pairing for the lemony, earthy Brussels sprouts.  Together, they looked and tasted like spring.  What a gift from these hardy, long-season winter vegetables.

Leeks and Brussels sprouts begin their long growing season just as spring is ending in late May and early June.  As I wrote in an earlier post, I start leeks in late May and they are ready to harvest in October:

I start Brussels sprouts around the first week of June, planting the seed indoors in pots, hardening them off about a month later and setting them out in the garden two feet apart in two rows thirty inches apart. I cover them with Reemay for several weeks to prevent maggot flies from laying eggs at the base of the plants.  I also mulch them heavily once the plants are established and water them regularly. They grow steadily until fall when I begin harvesting them after the first frost.  They survive winter temperatures in the high teens, but when it’s that cold I often cover them with a tarp, probably more for my sense of security than the plant’s needs.  Varieties that have grown well in my garden are Vancouver, Diablo, Gustus and, a new addition for this year that I’ll repeat, Nautic, pictured in the photo below.

Aphids can attack Brussels sprouts plants, working their way into the sprouts, but they haven’t been a problem in my garden, perhaps because I plant Brussels sprouts relatively late, following a suggestion I read in a West Coast Seed catalog years ago.

One additional step I’ve tried this year is “topping” them, cutting out the growing tip of the plant at the end of the summer.  Many seed catalogs suggest doing this in order to direct all the plant energy to filling out the sprouts already formed along the stock but I had never gotten around to it.  This year, I topped some and left others for comparison.  The topped plants definitely formed bigger sprouts all the way up the stalk to the truncated top.  Those plants that weren’t topped have continued to produce tasty, slightly flattened sprouts up to the growing tip as in the photo above.  This coming year, I’ll probably top most but not all of the plants.

It’s still several months before I’ll be planting the next year’s crops of leeks and Brussels sprouts.  In the meantime, I’ll enjoy these winter vegetables disguised as spring vegetables or back in their winter roles if winter returns.