BROCCOLI is a fantastic vegetable and is well known for its many health benefits, being packed with vitamins and minerals.
You’ll find the most widely used type of broccoli is Calabrese with its large, green florets, but it’s also worth exploring sprouting broccoli in your cooking.
It’s an ingredient that takes me back to being a young lad, growing up by a farm in Kinross-shire. It was one of the first in Scotland to grow broccoli and I still remember the views of field after field of it growing around us. When it was in season, we would enjoy broccoli at every meal, and to this day I get excited about trying new ways to cook and eat it.
Broccoli grows quite quickly and is known to be an easy crop to grow. While it tends to be in season from summer to autumn, sprouting types – which include both white and purple – take slightly longer, but they are tougher and can be enjoyed a little further into winter too. These varieties tend to appear a little less uniform, but I love the way they look more wild and natural on the plate. Their deep purple is easy to identify and the florets are more slender, with leafier stems. If you’re buying this lovely vegetable, you need to look out for dark greeny-purple leaves and florets, as well as stems that snap cleanly. Make sure you get rid of any yellow-tinted florets or wilted leaves, as they mean it’s not as fresh as it should be.
When it comes to cooking and preparing purple sprouting broccoli, it can be used in much the same way as other types. Be careful not to overcook it or you won’t get to enjoy the wonderful crunch the vegetable gives. You only need to boil it for 3-6 minutes depending on the size of the florets. If you’re stir frying, you only need about two minutes before the broccoli becomes tender.
Purple sprouting broccoli can make a delicious side dish served simply with some butter and a squeeze of lemon. It works equally well with seasonal seafood and meats, or as the main ingredient in stir fries, soups or pastas. The beauty is it cooks quickly, has a wonderful crunch and is packed with flavour – if you get your hands on some that is really high quality and fresh.
This ingredient also lends itself well to slow-cooking in dishes like this pearl barley risotto. You’ll find the colour darkens, but you’ll get a lovely mellow and slightly sweeter taste, and a bright bold dish to lift those chillier evenings that are fast approaching.
PEARL BARLEY RISOTTO WITH BROCCOLI PUREE
For the risotto
½ a large onion – finely sliced
100ml white wine
500ml chicken or vegetable stock
50g grated Parmesan
200g pearl barley
splash of sherry vinegar
salt and pepper
For the broccoli purée
1 tbsp butter
220g purple sprouting broccoli
1 tsp vegetable oil
salt and pepper
250g purple sprouting broccoli
50g sliced almonds
To make the broccoli purée
Put a large pan of water on to boil and add salt. Cook the broccoli for 7-8 minutes. Drain, place in the blender while still warm with the butter and blitz for 2-3 minutes until you have a fine purée. Cool as quickly as possible to keep the vibrant colour. Season to taste.
To make the risotto
In a heavy-bottomed pan, melt half the butter (25g) on a medium heat. Add the onion and sweat gently for 1-2 minutes, with no colour. Add the pearl barley and sweat for 30 seconds before seasoning with salt.
Add the white wine and reduce until dry. Add the chicken/vegetable stock so that it just covers the pearl barley and cook for 17-18 minutes, adding more stock just to the level until it reduces, while stirring continuously.
Once cooked, add two tablespoons of the broccoli purée and mix through the risotto so that it takes on a lovely fresh green colour.
Take off the heat and add the remaining butter and the Parmesan cheese until they melt.
As the risotto starts to cool, it will thicken with the cheese and butter. Add seasoning and a dash of sherry vinegar.
For the purple sprouting broccoli
Trim the purple sprouting broccoli into florets. In another frying pan, add a splash of oil, and add the broccoli, cooking for 2-3 minutes.
Divide the risotto between warm serving bowls. Top with the purple sprouting broccoli and almonds.
SAUTÉED PURPLE SPROUTING BROCCOLI WITH PANCETTA AND SQUID
200g cleaned squid pouches
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
400g purple sprouting broccoli
olive oil for cooking
8 slices of pancetta
For the persillade
1 small garlic clove, peeled
5g flat-leaf parsley leaves
Place the squid on a board and cut down one side of each pouch to open it out. Now lightly score the flesh. Slice the scored squid into small pieces.
Bring a large pan of salted water to the boil. Add the broccoli florets and blanch for 2-3 minutes, then drain and plunge into a bowl of iced water to refresh. Once cold, remove from the water, drain and pat dry on kitchen paper. Set aside.
Meanwhile, for the persillade, finely chop the garlic and parsley, then chop them together to mix thoroughly. Set aside.
Heat a non-stick frying pan over a medium-high heat and add a drizzle of olive oil. Add the pancetta and cook on each side until crispy, then remove from the pan and set aside.
Add the broccoli to the pan with a little more oil and sauté briefly until the florets turn a bit crispy. Remove and set aside.
Now add the squid to the pan, season with salt and pepper and sauté over a medium-high heat for 1-2 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and return the crispy pancetta and broccoli. Scatter half a tablespoon of persillade on top, toss together and serve.