Purple sprouting broccoli is in season now. This extract comes from the Spring section of my latest book
The Great British Vegetable Cookbook (see Books). You`ll find my recipe for Tahini dressed purple sprouting broccoli on the Cook Now page.
Broccoli comes in two forms,
sprouting and heading. The former is
made up of a loose cluster of flower heads on one or several branches, as
opposed to a single head. Both were introduced to British cooks in the
Sprouting broccoli or Italian
asparagus as it was sometimes called, came in many different colours, including
white, green, purple and black. It was
quickly regarded as a luxurious vegetable, due in part to its novelty and in part
to the fact that it’s at its best in March and April – a sparse time for
Indeed, so novel was it that Hannah
Glasse takes the unusual step of explaining how to prepare its stem for cooking
The Art of Cookery, made Plain and
Easy (1747). She then suggests, amongst other things, serving it boiled
like asparagus and dressing it in a salad with oil and vinegar, garnished with
pickled nasturtium buds.
It remains an early spring
favourite today, although modern cooks are more likely to season it with soy
sauce and sesame seeds than pickled nasturtium buds, oil and vinegar.
To prepare: strip away the small side leaves and buds of each head and
use a potato peeler to finely pare the tough skin from the stalks.
* Blanching lessens the bitterness
of purple sprouting broccoli. Drop it in
unsalted boiling water for a few seconds, then drain and cool under cold running
water. Add to cooked dish, such as
spiced coconut broth, and reheat.
Like all brassicas, purple sprouting broccoli develops a lovely,
slightly nutty flavour when stir-fried from raw.
To steam or to boil? In my view,
sprouting broccoli is best steamed to prevent the fragile heads from becoming
* Strong flavours, used with a
light hand, work well with purple sprouting broccoli - for example, ginger,
chilli, garlic, soy sauce, orange zest, lemon zest, black or white toasted
sesame seeds, toasted sesame oil and tahine (sesame paste).
Slow cooked broccoli is often partnered with strong-flavoured cheeses,
such as Pecorino or Parmesan.
Anchovy lovers might favour seasoning their purple sprouting broccoli
with a little chopped salted anchovy.