Purple sprouting broccoli

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 eighteenth century.

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 its at its best in March and April a sparse time for home-grown vegetables.

Indeed, so novel was it that Hannah Glasse takes the unusual step of explaining how to prepare its stem for cooking in 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 soggy.


Culinary notes

* 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.


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