The Brassica family (broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, cavolo nero and kale among others) are at their best during winter.
Two of my current favourites were my most feared as a child … broccoli and Brussels sprouts. I’m not sure what it was that made all things green seem so unappealing. Especially as now they are one of my favourite parts of the dish, well seasoned and slathered in butter.
Full of nutrients and vitamins, brassicas are as much at home as a side dish as they are as a meal on their own. Not only do they taste good, but they are seriously good for you. Brassicas have been attributed with potent anti-cancer properties and are rich in Vitamin C and soluble fibre.
Brussels sprouts, named after the capital of Belgium where they are thought to have originated, can be boiled, roasted, steamed or fried. If boiling, you can cut a shallow cross in the base to ensure even cooking. Broccoli can be eaten raw as a crudité, yet is at its best first lightly steamed or boiled and then stir-fried or baked (in a gratin). Some classic French chefs propound the need to peel the stalk of broccoli (it does make the thick stem palatable if you remove the fibrous green outer layer), however I find the small florets perfect just as they are.
Select and store –
Brussels Sprouts –
Choose buds that are small and tightly closed, with all buds a similar size to ensure they all cook at the same time. Brussels sprouts should be bright green in colour, any yellowing is a sign of mishandling and age. Store in the vegetable crisper in the fridge for 3 – 5 days.
Look for broccoli with tight florets and a smooth base with no cracks in it. The broccoli should be uniform in colour with no yellowing (yellow flowers are a sign of over-maturity). Store in an open plastic bag in the vegetable crisper in your fridge. Do not rinse the broccoli before putting in the fridge, as the water will hasten the aging of the flowers.
Brussels sprouts love: bacon, butter, pancetta, garlic, nutmeg, cream, parmesan, lemon, nuts, balsamic vinegar, evo, lemon
Broccoli loves: anchovies, pancetta, butter, chilli, cheese, almonds, lemon, sesame seeds
Cooking with –
- A great alternative to whole Brussels sprouts is to really finely slice (chiffonnade) the sprouts, then fry them with garlic and pancetta.
- Cut Brussels sprouts in half from the base of the stem to the top. Gently fry, cut size down, in a covered frying pan for 5 minutes (you can add a little water when you put them in the frying pan so that they steam as well as fry – just make sure there is not too much water). Season well, turn up the heat and toss the Brussels gently to caramelise on all sides. Sprinkle with parmesan cheese and serve.
- Par-boil small florets of broccoli and cauliflower. Strain and set aside. Heat a good lug of olive oil in a frying pan and add 2 finely sliced garlic cloves, one finely sliced chilli and a couple of good quality anchovy fillets. Allow this to cook until the anchovies have broken down into a paste. Add the broccoli and cauliflower, breaking up the florets with the back of your wooden spoon. Serve through pasta such as orreciette with a good lashing of Parmesan. The smoky flavour of the anchovies and the heat of the chilli are divine with the broccoli.
- Broccoli soup - boil broccoli in chicken stock (or in water with a ham hock). Drain the chicken stock, reserving the liquid and pulse broccoli in a food processor. Add remaining liquid until the mixture has reached the consistency of soup. Reheat the soup adding a little cream just before serving. Serve scattered with walnuts and a slice of blue cheese.