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The colour Purple - and yes we are talking vegetables!
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The Colour Purple!

Purple. Deep, rich, evocative, and – since Roman times (if not before) – the colour most closely associated with royalty and all things luxurious. How ironic, then, that two of the purple vegetables currently in season in the UK – purple sprouting broccoli and beetroot – far from being accorded the elevated status they deserve, are often overlooked. This is such a shame, as they’re reasonably straightforward to grow (beetroot especially), and are both easy to cook and versatile in their uses.
 
Beetroot? Where to start? If my childhood experience is anything to go by, its industrially-pickled form leaves most people deterred for life. If this is you, then please give beetroot another go! Boiled or roasted, and then paired with other earthy flavours, it brings a delicate sweetness and vibrant colour to a dish. With walnuts, a soft goat’s cheese, and bitter leaves (for example, rocket or dandelion),and with a generous glug of a good extra virgin olive oil, or rapeseed oil, it makes a cracking salad, as it does, too, with orange and red onion.

Try as an accompaniment to roast lamb or beef – it works as well as other roasted root vegetables.

For more comfort food, use beetroot as the main ingredient in a risotto or curry (for the latter, Madhur Jaffrey has some good recipes). Or if you want to ride with the current wave of interest in Scandinavian food, there’s the Swedish favourite, pytt i panna – a homely combination of potato, (minced) meat, and chopped beetroot, topped with an egg. Don’t discard the beetroot leaves if you’re lucky enough to get them, either – when young, they’re great in salads or wilted, much like spinach, over a gentle heat.
 
Many home bakers swear by beetroot in cakes, too, to which it lends an added richness and moistness. It works best with good chocolate, which has similar dark, minerally notes. Sneak them into brownies and you’ll be giving your children one of their ‘five a day’ without them even noticing!
 

Purple sprouting broccoli
(or the rather more prosaic ‘PSB’, to which it’s often abbreviated – hardly a flattering nomenclature for this most regal of brassicas), has actually been around for centuries, and much longer than its plainer, greener sibling, so beloved of supermarket shelves in recent years. In season from, roughly, January to May, it can often be used in place of ‘normal’ broccoli or cauliflower in a recipe. But when it’s young (once cut, try not to keep it for more than 3-4 days, after which time it can become a little bitter), it’s a delicacy in its own right, comparable with asparagus. Steam until tender – by which point it will have lost its purple colour and turned a bright green instead – then dunk into melted butter, freshly-made hollandaise, or a rosemary-spiked aioli for a real treat. Or, continuing the eggy theme, serve alongside scrambled or poached eggs, perhaps with a slice or two of black pudding. For variety, add purple sprouting directly to a stir-fry – there’s no need to pre-cook it.
 
Arguably, it’s the Italians who most prize purple sprouting, so it’s to them we should look for culinary inspiration. Topping a plate of freshly steamed purple sprouting with a spicy pangrattato (fried breadcrumbs mixed with anchovies, dried chillis, and perhaps some parsley and lemon zest), and drizzling the lot with a good olive or chilli oil, makes for a light and tasty bite.  For a more substantial meal, combine anchovies and chillis again to make a delicious pasta dish from Puglia. Here’s a recipe:
 

Pasta with anchovies, chilli, and garlic (serves 4)

 
  • 1kg purple sprouting broccoli florets
  • 6 canned anchovy fillets
  • approx. 4 tablespoons olive oil (not extra virgin)
  • 2-3 cloves of garlic, according to preference, peeled and finely chopped
  • generous pinch of dried chilli flakes, according to preference
  • 400g pasta (dried works best)
 
Steam the broccoli until tender (about 3 minutes). Keep warm and set aside.

Cook the pasta according to manufacturer’s instructions.

In a large pan over a medium heat, warm the oil. Add the anchovies and stir around the pan until melted. Add the garlic, and lower the heat. Cook through, making sure the garlic doesn’t burn. Add the chilli flakes to the pan, and stir around.

Add the broccoli, and stir to coat with the anchovy mixture.

Drain the pasta, and add to the pan. Mix well with the broccoli. Add more olive oil if necessary, so that everything is coated and glistening.
Serve straightaway with freshly grated parmesan.

Buon appetito!
 
Helen Parkins has been mad about food for as long as she can remember. She now writes about her obsession with all things gastronomic mainly at http://www.aforkfulofspaghetti.blogspot.com/, and on Twitter, at http://twitter.com/aforkful
 

 

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