One year at Thanksgiving, I suddenly had the urge to serve some kind of raw green salad. I can’t imagine why – there was more than enough food to serve everyone three times, with leftovers. But it just got lodged in my mind, so I bought some brussels sprouts, because I have some sprout lovers in my family, with no real plan. I googled and thought and kept coming back to a hot dish served at one of my favorite restaurants, a cacio e pepe inspired roasted brussels sprout. I wanted that, but I didn’t want hot and I knew that version would be complicated, and I had enough to do. So I ended up with this (after adding the pecorino to my last minute grocery list). I was pleased, and apparently so was my family. They did compliment it and eat it all.
Some time later, I was giving a talk about cookbooks to a women’s group and one of our dearest family friends was there. In the question and answer period, she asked me how I made the brussels sprouts my mom told her about from Thanksgiving. I didn’t really have a recipe, so I just outlined the idea. After the talk, several people came up to me with more questions – not about my books, but for more details about the brussels sprouts. So I guess I had a winner. I’ve turned it into a proper recipe, though it is so easy it hardly needs the name. In my mind it is now a Thanksgiving dish, but of course it is good at any time.
A word about the cheese. I t needs to be pecorino, not parmesan, which is too stringy – look for finely grated pecorino, the kind that is almost a powder. It needs to cling to the sprouts and blend into the dressing. I find it at the cheese counter. If you can’t find the powdery version, buy a piece of pecorino, cut it into chunks and pulse it in the food processor to powder. Cacio e pepe, the classic Roman pasta dish, means “cheese and pepper”, so you’ve got to be generous with the pepper and use freshly ground. And you are going to ask if you can buy pre-shredded sprouts? My answer is yes, with reservations. When I revisited this salad to take photos, I bought pre-shredded and I found them to be inconsistent. One bag had huge pieces and fine shred, one bag had gone wet and moldy in the center. I think it is very easy to do this with the slicing disk on a food processor, so I choose that, but it is purely up to you.
Cacio e Pepe Brussels Sprout Salad
4 – 6servings
1 pound brussels sprouts
Zest and juice of one lemon (or 2 small)
¼ cup grated pecorino romano cheese, plus more for sprinkling
2 Tablespoons olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoons kosher salt
- Rinse the brussels sprouts and pat dry. Remove any bruised or tough outer leaves, then cut off the hard stems. Shred the sprouts using the slicing disk of a food processor or carefully on a mandolin. You can also cut them thinly with a knife, but it takes quite a lot of time. Place the shredded sprouts in a bowl and sift through them, removing any pieces of hard core. Grate about 2 teaspoons of lemon zest over the sprouts and add the pecorino. Toss with your clean hands to combined everything well.
- Whisk the lemon juice (about 3 Tablespoons) with the olive oil in a small bowl. Grate in about 2 teaspoons of black pepper. Be very generous with the pepper – it’s kind of the point. Whisk in the salt until combined, then pour the dressing over the sprouts and toss to combine well.
- The salad can be refrigerated for up to two hours. Serve with a little extra cheese and pepper sprinkled over the top.