Deeply beautiful with dark green leaves and florets tinged with purple, purple sprouting broccoli – or simply PSB as it’s known – is a sublime cold-weather vegetable. With a deep, sweet and almost nutty flavour, it delivers the crunch and freshness many of us crave at this time of the year, when comfort food starts to sit heavily. Abundant and at its best right now, devour it while you can.
Longer and more elegant than its cousin broccoli, PSB prep is quick and simple, similar to that of asparagus, to which its flavour is sometimes compared. Just trim away dry woody ends and slice very thick stalks in half lengthways, so everything cooks evenly. Remove yellowing leaves, but don’t take off the tender ones, as they’re delicious.
Strive to showcase the delicate flavours rather than drown them out with too many other bold ingredients. And be careful not to overcook: the outside should be just tender while retaining some soft inner crunch.
To blanch, plunge the stems into salted boiling water and cook for three minutes, then drain and refresh a couple of times in cold water to halt cooking and preserve the verdant colour. To char grill, drain the blanched stems well and cook on a very hot ridged griddle pan or BBQ – no oil needed - until nice stripes form.
Roasting also works beautifully, as it magnifies the inherent nuttiness. But watch the stems like a hawk to avoid the edges over-charring, which will spoil the delicate flavours. Just toss the stems in olive oil, spread out in a single layer in a baking tray and sprinkle with salt. Roast in a 220C oven for 7-8 minutes, tossing the stems hallway through, until tender and lightly browned at the edges.
Once cooked the stems are ready to enjoy as a side dish, or add to risottos ,pasta and warm and cold salads. Or serve on toast or as a pizza topping.
Think simplicity. Blanch or griddle as above, then generously anoint with melted butter – brown butter is also delicious – to which you have added finely chopped garlic and/or chopped fresh chilli or dried flakes. While still warm, squeeze over some lemon juice, sprinkle sea salt flakes and grate pecorino or Parmesan cheese. Add a poached egg if you fancy.
Purple sprouting broccoli can form the heart of a wonderful salad.
Boil some new potatoes until just tender in salted water, drain and cut in half. Blanche the purple sprouting broccoli as described above. Gently toss the vegetables with a simple vinaigrette to which you have added some finely chopped anchovy fillets. Add some crisp shards of fried smoky bacon or chorizo, if you like, and maybe some soft-boiled eggs and a sprinkling of chopped toasted hazelnuts, pine nuts or sesame seeds.
Alternatively, gently combine with some chickpeas or cooked grains, sliced blood oranges, a handful of tender leaves and a chilli-spiked dressing.
For something heartier, boil some dried pasta according to the packet instructions. While this is happening, gently fry shallots and garlic in butter until tender but not coloured. Add a generous splash of double cream then pull the pan off the heat, then stir in some crumbled blue cheese like gorgonzola or soft goat’s cheese until melted. Drain the pasta, reserving some of the cooking water, and to the cream mixture, and enough of the cooking water to produce a creamy sauce. Gently fold through chopped purple sprouting broccoli stems and serve immediately.
Perfect partners: garlicky mayonnaise, hollandaise sauce, eggs (poached, soft-boiled and scrambled), chopped nuts, cheese (pecorino, Parmesan, goat’s or blue), blood oranges, grilled fish, grated orange zest.