Home-grown harvest: purple sprouting …

Packed full of vitamins and possessing an earthy, sweet flavour, purple sprouting broccoli can add a beautiful pop of colour to any dinner plate. Russell Brown reports

Purple sprouting broccoli is sometimes called poor man’s asparagus, but that, perhaps, does this earthy, sweet brassica a disservice. For a start, this is one of the first leafy vegetables to arrive in the new year, slotting in nicely between the end of the Brussels sprouts and the start of spring cabbages. It also has a great flavour, looks the part and is hugely versatile.

One distinction that maybe needs making is between sprouting broccoli, which comes in white and green versions as well as the purple, and the solid green heads of calabrese, which are often around 15cm in diameter. The season for calabrese is late summer to late autumn, whereas sprouting broccoli is at its best from February to late April.

Part of the wider cabbage family, purple sprouting broccoli is packed with vitamin C and is a good source of carotenoids, iron, folic acid, calcium, fibre and vitamin A. Cultivation is believed to go as far back as the sixth century BC. You should look for stems that are less than one centimetre thick and have dark green leaves and tight purple heads. The tiny individual flowers that form each head want to be closed; once open, they will start to show as yellow in colour.

The plants are usually grown from seed, with different varieties allowing growers to achieve a consistent crop across the season. The plant produces a dominant central head with side shoots around it. Varieties grown commercially include Santee, Rudolph and Red Spear. Periods of severe cold weather are detrimental to the crop. The plants are relatively hardy and easy to grow, but there are issues with pests and diseases, and pigeons and other birds can be a serious problem.

Sprouting broccoli lends itself to various cooking methods, but the general rule is fast, light cooking. Briefly steaming, chargrilling or stir-frying all work well. The stems want to be just tender to the point of a knife when cooked. Splitting or peeling thicker stems is a sensible option, and they will break where they are tender in much the same way as asparagus does. The spears can be served as part of a garnish for both meat and fish dishes, but work equally well as a dish in their own right.

Some popular flavour pairings with purple sprouting are chilli, garlic, anchovies, Parmesan, blue cheese, hollandaise sauce and eggs. At the Parkers Arms in Newton-in-Bowland in Lancashire, chef-proprietor Stosie Madi charcoal-grills the spears, dresses them with sea salt and lemon juice and serves with a wild garlic mayonnaise. At the Stoke by Nayland hotel near Colchester, executive head chef Alan Paton serves warm purple sprouting broccoli with pink grapefruit and pine nuts and a Madeira and smoked butter sauce.

Market report
British purple sprouting season runs from around February to April. The price is usually around £3-£3.50 per kilo, but if the product goes short due to weather conditions, such as frost or snow, then it will rise. Later in the season there will be plenty around as temperatures increase.
Ashley Clemence, Total Produce

Buying and storage tips

  • Store in the fridge to keep the product at its best.
  • Choose stems that are firm, with vibrant green leaves.
  • Avoid stems much thicker than 1cm.

Purple sprouting broccoli with fried polenta, chilli and goats’ cheese
Serves 8-10 as a starter

For the chilli dressing
Juice of 4 oranges/blood oranges, reduced to a light syrup
1 small red chilli, roasted, peeled, deseeded and finely chopped
10g honey
10g Dijon mustard
50ml white wine vinegar
250ml grapeseed oil or light olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste

For the polenta
900ml water
1 large clove of garlic
9g Maldon sea salt
225g polenta
70g butter
70g Parmesan

For the purple sprouting
40-50 spears of purple sprouting, trimmed and washed
Extra virgin olive oil and Maldon sea salt to dress

To serve
300g soft goats’ cheese or curd, beaten to soften

For the dressing, combine the first five ingredients in a tall measuring jug. Gradually blend in the oil and season to taste.

To make the polenta in a Thermomix, place water, garlic and salt in the mixer, set at 90°C and process at speed 6 for five minutes. Then set to speed 1 and drizzle in the polenta. Change to the butterfly whisk and cook at 90°C for an hour at speed 2. Add the butter and Parmesan and mix at speed 2 for two minutes at 90°C. Check and adjust the seasoning and pour into cling film-lined trays. Chill to set and then cut into discs. Alternatively, make in a pan in a similar way – you may need to add more water.

Steam or blanch the broccoli until just tender. Dress with extra virgin olive oil and salt.

Pan-fry discs or rectangles of the polenta until crisp and golden on both sides. Place the polenta on the plates and lay the spears of broccoli across it. Quenelle the goats’ cheese and place beside the broccoli. Drizzle the chilli dressing around and over the broccoli.


Roast rump of lamb with purple sprouting and hazelnut and cumin butter
Serves 4

For the rumps
4 lamb rumps, trimmed and fat scored
Maldon sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
50ml olive oil
25g unsalted butter
1 clove of garlic, smashed
4 sprigs of thyme

For the purple sprouting
16-20 spears of purple sprouting, trimmed and washed

For the hazelnut butter
1tbs olive oil 1 clove garlic, minced
1tsp ground cumin
100g unsalted butter
Zest of ½ lemon
10ml lemon juice
Maldon sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
30g roasted hazelnuts, crushed

In a small saucepan, heat the olive oil and sweat off the garlic without colouring. Add the cumin and toast until fragrant. Remove from the heat and allow to cool.

Beat the butter until soft and then add the lemon zest and juice. Beat in the cold garlic mix and season to taste. Fold through the hazelnuts.

Heat a heavy-based frying pan, season the fat on the rumps, and place them in the pan fat side down. Cook over medium heat to render the fat. Season the flesh and turn to colour well all over. Add the oil, butter, garlic and thyme. Turn the meat fat side down again, baste and move to a hot oven, around 180°C. Cook for four to eight minutes, basting occasionally. Medium rare will be around 48°C when the meat comes out of the oven. Rest on a wire rack, fat side up.

Blanch or steam the broccoli until just tender, drain and transfer to a sauté pan. Add the butter and allow just to melt, tossing to coat the broccoli thoroughly.

Carve the lamb rumps into thick slices and place in the centre of shallow bowls. Lay the broccoli beside the lamb and spoon the butter over and around.


Coming soon
Over the next few months I will be featuring outdoor rhubarb and sorrel in Home-grown Harvest. Do let me know how you use these products on your menus and what your seasonal favourites are. Email recipes, dish suggestions and photographs to: [email protected]

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