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Luscious starter of broccoli gratin with anchovy-infused cream: Grow it yourself

Rich anchovy-infused cream is a lovely foil to the fresh greenness of the broccoli, writes Michael Kelly.

Michael Kelly Grower

IF THE FACT that we’ve put February behind us wasn’t reason enough to be cheerful, along comes March and purple sprouting broccoli time.

I love this vegetable, not least because it provides some wonderful greens for the kitchen at a time when we’re just about tiring of the root crops like carrots and parsnips, and other veg like beetroot and celeriac have disappeared altogether.

Purple sprouting broccoli

Let’s get on first name terms and call it PSB. It is an amazing vegetable to eat, but it’s also somewhat of a veg-growing oddity. It bucks the “sow in spring, harvest in autumn” convention and instead spends almost a full year in the ground, surviving all but the toughest of winters and becoming “sow in summer, harvest in spring”.

This makes it supremely useful for the home-grower because it means it’s providing food in the difficult hungry gap months of March and April. This early arrival brings it in ahead of pretty much everything else in the veg patch. It will be May before early peas, potatoes and even salad greens make much of an appearance.

Unlike regular broccoli (properly known as calabrese), which puts all its efforts into producing one big, densely-packed and dare I say tasteless, central head, PSB is an altogether more gradual and delicate affair.

Home gardening - Purple sprounting healthy vegetable, like brocc

The part we eat are actually the flowering shoots, and happily, the more we harvest the more it produces. Let’s just say that we will be eating lots of it in the next two months. That will also be a great tonic for our sluggish post-winter bodies.

From a taste perspective, the home-grower has all the advantages when it comes to PSB. Like most vegetables, PSB is at its best when eaten almost immediately after picking and before the sugars turn to less palatable starch.

Cooked immediately after harvesting, its flavour is absolutely exquisite and it needs just a few minutes of gentle steaming or boiling. Generally speaking we will have it as a side veg, but we will also put it centre stage with the gratin recipe below, or indeed as a starter, dipping the shoots in to a tangy dressing (tahini is a great base for a PSB dressing, as are anchovies).

If you are buying PSB, seek out local and recently-picked. Try a local farmer’s market or good quality supermarket. Don’t bother with the cellophane-wrapped “fresh”-from-Kenya alternative. The flavour will disappoint.

The Basics – Growing PSB

Sow in early to mid summer in module trays (one seed per module). 3 or 4 plants should be enough for most households. Plant out as part of your brassica rotation about 6 weeks after sowing when the seedlings are hardy, allowing at least 60cm between plants.

Though it’s relatively easy to grow, it is vulnerable to all the normal pests that enjoy all brassicas. Netting or fleece over the plant will keep butterflies from laying their eggs on the plants (which will turn to leaf-munching caterpillars).

Pigeons also like to eat the leaves. Earthing up in the winter will help keep the plants from toppling over.

Harvesting PSB is about snapping off the shoots before they flower when about 10cm long. Keep picking to encourage a longer season.

This Month at GROW HQ

This month at GROW HQ there are courses on growing spuds, fermented and cultured drinks, knife skills, beekeeping, an introduction to soil life, making homemade sausages and much more.

We’ve also got our regular yoga and mindfulness classes, our Friday Feast and the return of our Mindful Lunch. Tickets from €10 at www.growhq.org.

Give Peas a Chance

This week we launched our Give Peas a Chance campaign with our friends in Cully & Sully and this year’s campaign has a new twist. We are looking for secondary schools to take part in a competition to find Ireland’s next food entrepreneur superstars.

Teachers can register for free and we will be sending out kits with everything they need to grow their own peas in their school over the coming weeks.

We will set pea-sized challenges each week and at the end we will be looking for shortlisted teams to pitch their recipe, design and brand for a new homegrown and homemade soup.

There are prizes worth €5,000 up for grabs, including a €3,000 garden for the school, and prizes for the teachers and students. To register head along to cullyandsully.com/ourgarden.

Recipe of the Week – PSB Gratin

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shutterstock_196837673 Source: Shutterstock/teleginatania

Here’s a recipe from fellow PSB fan Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall. Rich, delicately anchovy-infused cream is a lovely foil to the fresh greenness of the broccoli.

This is a luscious starter, but you could make a supper of it if you serve with some good bread and butter. Serves two.

Ingredients

  • 200g purple sprouting broccoli
  • 1 tbsp olive oil, plus extra to finish
  • 1 clove garlic, peeled and finely chopped
  • 2 anchovy fillets
  • 200ml double cream
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 20g breadcrumbs

Directions

Steam the broccoli over boiling water for around five minutes, until tender to the point of a sharp knife. Alternatively, cook it in boiling water until tender – three to four minutes – and drain well.

Heat the oil in a frying pan over a medium heat. Add the garlic and anchovy, and cook gently for a few minutes, crushing the anchovies down into the oil.

Add the cream, let it bubble for two to three minutes until thickened and reduced by about a third, then add black pepper to taste, and salt if needed.

Put the broccoli into a shallow gratin dish or ovenproof pan, pour over the cream mix, add a trickle of oil and scatter breadcrumbs on top.

Grill for a few minutes until golden and bubbling, and serve at once.

Michael Kelly is founder of GIY and GROW HQ

Click here for more GIY tips and recipes.

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Michael Kelly  / Grower

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