The first veg box has arrived. I’ve been umming and ahing for years about getting one. It’s just that I always plan to scour farmer’s markets and local shops for my seasonal produce, but have finally faced up to the fact that I usually end up in the supermarket. I’ll still pop up the road to the fabulous Reg the Veg for extra bits and pieces but from now on it’s the surprise element of my weekly box that will dictate what I cook (and sometimes write about).
So, amongst all the other fabulous veggies, this week’s highlight – purple sprouting. I love the stuff, it’s so much tastier than the green Calabrese broccoli they sell everywhere month in month out. It seems mad that a few decades ago purple sprouting broccoli was the British norm and the Italian import was considered rather exotic.
The sun shone today, it actually felt like we might be leaving the sub zero weather behind at last and so I got over excited and cooked up a rather summery feeling dish. I wanted my sprouting to play centre stage and so I opted for pasta. Italians love to cook broccoli and cauliflower with chilli and garlic, and perhaps it was the sunshine that had me feeling nostalgic about summer holidays and fiery bowls of spaghetti alio e olio. Spaghetti with oil, lashings of garlic and a good dose of chilli is about as cheap and basic as a bowl of pasta can get, but I became addicted on last year’s holiday in Calabria. (Highlights: the stunning old town of Tropea, the Aeolian islands and amazing food all round. Low point: JoJo getting a jelly fish stuck down his swimming trunks.)
But, back to the pasta. You could add all sorts of other bits to this dish such as toasted pine kernels, capers, salted anchovies or sun blush tomatoes (the juicy semi-dried ones) but I love its simplicity. You really don’t need parmesan, the crispy breadcrumbs are often referred to as poor man’s parmesan in any case. And, if pasta’s not your thing then just try this dish with butter beans instead.
Fiery Spaghetti with Purple Sprouting
300 g purple sprouting
A large handful of fresh bread crumbs along with 2 tbsp olive oil
3-4 cloves of garlic, very finely chopped
1/2 tsp dried chilli flakes, or a couple of dried chillis finely chopped
About 250 ml extra virgin olive oil
Trim any tough stalks from the sprouting (the guinea pigs are in heaven) but keep all those delicious leaves. Give it a rinse.
Toss the breadcrumbs around in the olive oil and roast on a tray for around 10 minutes in a hot oven (200c ish) until throughly crisp and golden. You can toast up a double quantity and keep some in a jar for a few days too (they add a good bit of crunch to a salad)
Throw the garlic and chilli into a small pan with the cold extra virgin oil and heat through really slowly so that the garlic flavour infuses the oil. Whip it off the heat as soon as the garlic begins to colour, it will continue to cook for a minute or two. You want to finish up with glorious gold rather than burnt brown. Set the oil aside (do it ahead if you feel like it).
Cook the pasta in plenty of salted boiling water until al dente and steam or boil the sprouting for a matter of minutes until just tender. (I have a steamer that fits perfectly on top of my pasta pan.)
Now it’s just a question of tossing the drained pasta in the wickedly fiery garlic oil and then carefully rolling in the purple sprouting. Sprinkle over the breadcrumbs and serve.
Other Wonderful Ways with Purple Sprouting
Classic anchovy dressing – Pound about 6 salted anchovy fillets together with the juice of half a lemon, about 3 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil and plenty of freshly ground black pepper. Steam or boil about 500 g of sprouting. Drain and toss in the oil. Sublime alongside lamb.
Try going down the Oriental route – Steam or boil about 500 g of sprouting until just tender and then refresh in cold water. Stir fry about a teaspoon of chopped garlic, a teaspoon of chopped ginger and a couple of finely diced chillis in a splash of vegetable oil until fabulously fragrant. Toss in a tablespoon of fermented black beans along with the sprouting, stir to heat through and serve.