Purple Sprouting Broccoli
Broccoli comes from the Italian word brocco meaning branch or arm. Roman epicure Marcus Gavius Apicius, creator of one of the earliest known recipe books, describes preparing broccoli “with a mixture of cumin and coriander seeds, chopped onion plus a few drops of oil and sun-made wine.”
There are three commonly grown types of broccoli. The most familiar is Calabrese broccoli, often referred to simply as “broccoli”, named after Calabria in Italy. It has large (10 to 20 cm) green heads and thick stalks. Purple cauliflower is also a type of broccoli, but has a head shaped like cauliflower consisting of tiny flower buds. It sometimes, but not always, has a purple cast to the tip s of the flower buds. The last variety is purple sprouting broccoli, which has a larger number of purple heads with many thin stalks.
Originally cultivated by the Romans, purple sprouting broccoli has only risen to prominence in the UK over the past few decades. It is considered a seasonal treat, and a healthy one at that; it contains high levels of vitamin C and is a good source of iron, folic acid, calcium, and fibre.
Often simply referred to as purple sprouting, it has long stalks and small purple flower heads. The leaves, heads and stalks are all tender and edible. Boil or steam gently for six to eight minutes and do not overcook. Broccoli belongs to the brassica family and, like cabbage, gets sulphurous and soggy when overcooked.
Purple sprouting broccoli has a surprisingly delicate taste. Simply steamed or boiled, it partners almost any fish or meat dish. However, it is also often served as signature ingredient, flavoured with lemon butter, anchovies or other stronger yet complementary flavours. It can also be included in dishes such as quiches, salads, pasta bakes or stir-fries.