The first show of these cheery green stalks with their flowery purple heads is the sign that summer is on its way, and the stubborn root vegetables that have been squatting in the vegetable drawer all winter will soon be replaced with an array of brightly coloured and richly flavoured British produce.
Purple sprouting broccoli reaches a peak around mid April – it’s available from March but the stems can be a little woody and may require some rather fiddly peeling. By April, they’re tender all the way down to the end, and require delicate treatment and careful cooking, followed by eating with much gusto and slurping.
Riverford Farm’s ‘Everday & Sunday’ cook book recommends tying in a bunch with an elastic band (as above), standing in around 1cm of water and steaming for a few minutes to prevent overcooking the delicate heads. River Cottage canteen in Plymouth served them as tempura over the weekend with chilli and herby dipping sauces; the crispy coating shattering as you bit into it.
How you cook them doesn’t really matter as long as you keep the cooking time short, just make sure you get hold of plenty of the stuff. It always seems as though we’ve bought too much, but it turns out it’s never enough – young and old will be happily crunching through the rich, sweet and juicy stems with great delight, I promise you. I’ve recommended a couple of ways of cooking them below which are simple and easy, yet really bring out the best of this beautiful vegetable.
1. Blanch for a minute in boiling water, refresh in cold water then grill for a couple of minutes on a hot bbq or grill pan (griddle). Dress with plenty of Maldon sea salt and a drizzle of cold pressed rapeseed oil, making a 100% British and 100% delicious dish.
2. Steam gently in a bunch (as Riverford suggests above) for around 4 minutes, then dress with a few good shakes of soy sauce, sesame oil, lemon juice, chilli and torn basil.
Incidentally, I can advise against trying to get a photo of these while hungry fork-armed diners look on menacingly. I was lucky to escape without injury.