Wednesday 19 September 2018

Rachel Allen: A promise of spring with first broccoli

The first broccoli of the new season is something to be relished, and is a promise of spring, says Rachel Allen.

Broccoli with lemon, garlic and mature Coolea
Broccoli with lemon, garlic and mature Coolea
Rachel Allen. Rachel’s clothes, Brown Thomas; Jewellery, Seoidin, Westbury Mall Make-up by Amy Browne; Hair by Jennifer Lil Buckley, both Brown Sugar

Rachel Allen

Each year, they pierce the monotony of late winter and bridge the hungry gap. I pester the farmers at my local market throughout February, asking when the sprouting broccoli will be ready. Then, finally, they arrive, and I can't help but carry bundles of the beautiful spears home.

They're the first new vegetable we've had for months, so I'm always inspired to subject them to every different technique and recipe I can think of. I boil and bake them, roast and grill them, toss them through pastas and even scatter them on pizza.

More tender and flavourful than calabrese broccoli, the purple shoots are best when they're fresh and they need just a few minutes in boiling salted water. It's worth cutting off the bases if they feel thick and tough.

One of my favourite ways to eat sprouting broccoli is to give it the same treatment as spears of asparagus. Rich and buttery hollandaise sauce is just as divine when it is served with sprouting broccoli as it is with asparagus – why should only asparagus receive such luxury? Served on toast, this makes for a fabulous lunch; add a poached egg and you have quite the feast.

Broccoli really stands up to strong flavours, such as lemon and garlic. They balance together with the broccoli for this side dish, opposite, which also has mature Coolea cheese. I sometimes add chopped red chilli for some welcome heat.

The pasta dish, opposite, is a really simple way of serving broccoli. It makes for a hugely affordable supper, as it contains mostly store-cupboard ingredients. The anchovies dissolve into the oil as they cook, so they don't taste fishy at all, only adding a deeply savoury flavour that works wonderfully with the broccoli and pasta.

Broccoli with lemon, garlic and mature Coolea

Serves 4-6.

You will need:

6 tablespoons olive oil

3 tablespoons lemon juice

Finely grated zest of half a lemon

1 small clove of garlic, crushed or finely grated

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

750g (1lb 7oz) sprouting broccoli, bases removed if they are thick and tough

About 15 olives, stones removed and roughly chopped

15g (½oz) mature Coolea cheese or Parmesan cheese, finely grated; with extra shavings, to serve

First, make the dressing. Whisk together the olive oil, the lemon juice, the lemon zest and the crushed or finely grated garlic, whichever you're using, then season with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Set aside.

Cut the sprouting broccoli into pieces about 5cm (2in) long. Bring a saucepan of salted water – use 1 teaspoon of salt – to the boil, add the broccoli and cook it on a high heat, with the lid off, for about 4-5 minutes, until it is cooked.

Drain the broccoli, then toss it together with half the dressing, the roughly chopped pitted olives and the grated mature Coolea cheese or grated Parmesan, whichever you're using.

Serve while warm, or at room temperature, with shavings of mature Coolea cheese or Parmesan, whichever you are using, and another drizzle of dressing.

Purple sprouting broccoli on toast with hollandaise sauce

Serves 4.

For the hollandaise sauce, you will need:

1 large egg yolk

1 tablespoon of cold water

50g (2oz) butter, cut into cubes

1-2 teaspoons lemon juice

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Place a heatproof bowl over a saucepan of simmering water on a medium heat. The water must not boil. If it does, it may heat the sauce so much that it will scramble or curdle, so take the pan off the heat every so often.

Add the egg yolk and 1 tablespoon of cold water. Whisking all the time, gradually add the butter, a few cubes at a time – ensure each addition has melted and emulsified as it is whisked in, before adding the next.

Once all the butter has been incorporated, season to taste with the lemon juice, and the salt and freshly ground black pepper, if necessary.

Remove from the heat and serve immediately, or leave the sauce to sit over the saucepan of warm water until you're ready to serve.

You will also need:

Good pinch of salt

350g (12½oz) purple sprouting broccoli, bases removed if they are thick and tough

A few slices of brown soda bread

Butter

Hollandaise sauce (see above)

Place a large pan of salted water on a high heat and bring to the boil. When it's boiling, add the broccoli and cook it for 2-3 minutes, or until it's just slightly tender, but not soft. Then drain and set it aside.

While the broccoli is cooking, toast the brown soda bread, then spread it with the butter. For each person, place a piece of toast on a warmed plate, add some broccoli and then spoon over a little of the hollandaise sauce.

Purple sprouting broccoli pasta

Serves 4-6.

You will need:

Salt

300g (11oz) penne pasta

450g (1lb) purple sprouting broccoli, thick, woody ends removed and cut into bite-sized pieces

4 tablespoons olive oil

1 small red chilli, chopped (keep the seeds if you'd like it hot)

2 cloves garlic, crushed or finely grated

5 anchovy fillets

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Parmesan cheese, freshly grated

Place a large pan of salted water on a high heat and bring to the boil. Add the penne pasta and cook it until it is al dente – however, about 4 minutes before the end of the pasta's cooking time, add the purple sprouting broccoli into the pan.

As the pasta and broccoli cooks, add the olive oil to a large frying pan, place it on a medium heat and add the chopped red chilli, the crushed or finely grated garlic, whichever you're using, and the anchovy fillets.

Cook for a few minutes, stirring frequently with a spoon so that the anchovies fall apart.

When the pasta and broccoli are cooked, drain them and add them to the frying pan. Toss everything together, taste for seasoning, then serve immediately with some freshly grated Parmesan.

  • Rachel's clothes, Brown Thomas
  • Jewellery, Seoidin, Westbury Mall
  • Make-up by Amy Browne; hair by Jennifer Lil Buckley, both Brown Sugar

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