Purple Sprouting Broccoli

Purple Sprouting BroccoliSprouting broccoli is one of my favourite vegetables and it’s a great crop to grow yourself because, strangely, it’s very rarely to be seen in the shops in Ireland.

A brassica (member of the cabbage family), it is grown for its clusters of flower heads, which are harvested before the flowers open and used as a vegetable in a similar way to asparagus. It is closely related to cauliflower and, interestingly, in Cornwall (where my father grew cauliflower for the early market and sent it up to Covent Garden on the night train) the early cauliflower is called broccoli.

In a small garden it can seem a long time to wait for the crop – usually sown in spring to harvest the following winter – but it is rewarding as its ‘cut and come again’ nature means you have it to pick over along period. It’s not wasteful either as, although the pre-flowering heads are a delicacy and the main reason for growing it, the leaves can be eaten like cabbage too.

As the RHS (Royal Horticultural Society) point out on their brilliant website, “Broccoli has had a resurgence in popularity - for its high vitamin content and anti-cancer agents. It is a fast-growing and easy-to-grow crop, producing bluish-green heads that are harvested in the summer or autumn, depending on the time it is sown. The sprouting types – white or purple sprouting - are hardy and overwintered for harvest in spring, filling the gap between sprouts and spring cabbage.”

Sole with Lemon & Hazelnut Sauce and Purple Sprouting Broccoli Sole with Lemon & Hazelnut Sauce and Purple Sprouting Broccoli

This recipe is the classic pairing of sole and Bénédictine liqueur, which is a brandy or cognac based herbal beverage produced in France. You can other flat fish fillets - plaice, brill or black sole - and sprouting broccoli is an ideal accompaniment in all cases.

It is a treat of a dish, from the wonderful book, From Tide To Table, that we published in partnership with BIM - and which won both a Gourmand World Cookbook Award and the Food Book of the Year at the 2009 Listowel Food Fair.

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Buttered Purple Sprouting Broccoli

This is a great way to ensure that broccoli is perfect every time. It can be cooked and refreshed a few hours in advance, which guarantees no more over-cooked lifeless specimens. Purple sprouting broccoli is in season in late winter and early spring, and a much more interesting vegetable than the ubiquitous calabrese.

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