Oven-roasted Brussels sprouts with chestnuts

The brassica towers of the Parisian suburbs

If you’ve ever ventured out to the southeastern suburbs of Paris, you’ve probably been through Créteil. There, you might have seen a strange group of buildings known as the Choux de Créteil. And you might ask : what are those choux ?

Built between 1969 and 1974 by Gérard Grandval, these ten round towers are fifteen stories high. In 2008, they were added to the list of “20th century Heritage” buildings. At the time, the towers were also called dahlias, corn cobs, or flower-houses, complete with their balcony “petals.”

But what about that problematic word, choux ? The translation from French for the plural word choux is cabbage. But choux is used in many other words : choux-fleur (cauliflower), chou-rave (kohlrabi), and choux de Bruxelles, or Brussels sprouts. They’re all in the family of plants known as brassica.

Kah-LAY and Ragging Bool

Incidentally, it turns out that kale is also in the same family, and since kale is a recent import to France thanks to American Kristen Beddard, the French call it by different names : I’ve seen choux curly or even kalé, with an accent, and of course (bien sûr !) pronounced kah-LAY. Which reminds me of all the times French people have “corrected” my pronunciation of English-language words.

Once, at a cinema in the middle of France, I attended a special screening of that old chestnut, Raging Bull. When I pronounced the name of the movie I wanted to see, trying a French accent, the woman at the ticket counter stated the name in a pointedly didactic way : “Très bien, Mademoiselle : deux billets pour RAGGING BOOL

.” Okay, lady – I say raging, you say ragging.

The Cauliflowers of Créteil

After living here for a while, you learn to choose your battles. So on the odd occasion that I order a chocolate-chip cookie from the bakery, I just say now “ Une cookies, s’il vous plait” instead of trying to make anyone understand that it’s one cookie, two cookies.

And anyway, aren’t buildings that look like a member of the brassica family more interesting, after all ? After reading this article about the towers, I realized that they are known as the “Cauliflowers of Créteil.”

Vegetal forms

Thing is, those towers look neither like cauliflower, nor like cabbage – at least not to me. When I first saw these space-age choux, they made me think of the Brussels sprout plant. It turns out that Gérard Grandval simply hated the cubes that most of us call home. “Too clean, without mystery” – his homes would be moving, vegetal forms, the anti-cube.

And even though Grandval called his creations “dahlia-buildings,” he didn’t mind anyone calling them cauliflowers. I guess any type of brassica sounded better to him than those “stupid and boring perpendicular masses” lest we forget the lyricism of “blurry, crazy, vegetal” shapes. I’ll be ruminating on that one as I chew my Brussels sprouts over the holidays.

Oven-roasted Brussels sprouts with chestnuts

If your childhood memories include over-cooked Brussels sprouts, this recipe will erase those memories. The duck fat and luxurious chestnuts transform humble sprouts into a pleasantly crunchy side dish, perfect with a simple roast chicken or even leftover turkey with gravy.

You can find duck fat at any gourmet foods shop (sometimes sold under the brand D’Artagnan in the section with poultry), or sometimes even cookware shops sell it. But if you can’t find any, or are serving vegetarians, no worries – a mild olive oil works well too.

ingredients :
- about 15 ounces (420g) fresh Brussels sprouts, washed and well drained
- 3 tablespoons duck fat or olive oil
- 1½ cups (220g) bottled roasted/cooked whole chestnuts, halved, or frozen cooked chestnuts, defrosted and cut in half
- 1 small clove of garlic, chopped
- a few fresh sage leaves (optional), chopped
- 1 teaspoon fine sea salt
- a few twists of the pepper mill

how to make it :
1. Preheat oven to 400°F (205°C).
2. Trim the bottom of each sprout, and remove any dirty or spotty outer leaves. Then cut the sprouts in half from top to bottom.
3. Heat the duck fat or olive oil over medium-high heat in a wide cast-iron skillet or other oven-proof pan.
4. When the fat begins to shimmer, add the Brussels sprouts, flat side down, and let them cook undisturbed for 2-3 minutes, or until a toasty odor is released and the bottoms of the sprouts have begun to turn a golden-brown color.
5. Turn the sprouts over, add the chestnuts, and stir quickly. Cover the skillet and transfer it to the hot oven and roast for 10 minutes.
6. Remove the cover, add the garlic, sage, salt, and pepper, and toss well. Return the skillet, uncovered, to the oven for 8-10 more minutes.
7. Remove from oven, and serve immediately. Bon app’ !

3-4 side-dish servings

Tags : Paris , chestnuts , Parisian apartments


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