It sounds exotic but purple sprouting broccoli is pure Irish

Hardy vegetable survives our climate, despite our poor soil and inclement weather

I like to think of purple sprouting broccoli as winter (or early spring) asparagus. Photograph: iStock

I like to think of purple sprouting broccoli as winter (or early spring) asparagus. Photograph: iStock

 

For many of us in these difficult times, it’s hard to think of anything except the virus that has brought a virtual stop to our economy. But life must go on and I find the way best way to approach this is to think of those hardy vegetables that survive our Irish climate, despite our poor soil and inclement weather.

Purple sprouting broccoli is one such vegetable. It can survive temperatures as low as minus 12 degrees. In contrast to most vegetables, it’s sown in spring and summer to be ready in the winter or the following spring.

It’s a member of the brassica family (like cabbage). So would it be a step too far to have bacon and purple sprouting broccoli instead of our traditional (and possibly blind) adherence to cabbage? Some food combinations arise from necessity while others arrive through flights of fantasy. I think both are equally important.

I like to think of purple sprouting broccoli as winter (or early spring) asparagus. Asparagus season is so short, we need something to supplement it.

 Of course, it needs a trim when you buy it, to make it beautiful. The whole lot is edible, except the larger coarser leaves which can be tough. It’s usually sold tied in bunches, much the same as asparagus. I get mine in McCambridge’s in Galway but you should be able to find it in most supermarkets or vegetable markets. Ballymakenny Farm in Co Louth grows a wonderful supply that we use in the restaurants.

Don’t ask me where this treat was when we were growing up. Perhaps our desire for uniformity made us single out just one type of broccoli. Haven’t we done the same with the carrot and the tomato?

In an age where increasing number of us are following vegetarian and vegan diets, we need to acknowledge that we have severely limited our scope when it comes to heritage varieties. Our medieval ancestors had more variety when it came to eating vegetables.

Cooking purple sprouting broccoli is a speedy affair. Simply plunge it into salted boiling water for two to three minutes, remove and dress with melted butter, lemon juice and some coarse sea salt. 

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