There are two things I especially love about early spring. Daffodils. Purple sprouting broccoli. The French don’t really do either.
Well, that’s not fair. In the woods near here, in a few weeks, there’ll be swathes of delicate, rather pale and lovely daffodils blooming. At weekends, people will go and pick enormous basketsful of them. They’ll take them home and stick the flowers in vases, where they’ll last only a day or two before wilting in the indoor heat. But the civic displays which for me are one of the glories of the UK simply hardly exist here. No dual carriageways are planted with unreasonable quantities of brilliant yellow daffs announcing to every passing motorist ‘Spring is here!’ There are no newspaper headlines ‘Daffodils on the Stray’, featuring a couple of four year olds gambolling among the flowers. No florists or supermarkets here have buckets of blooms ‘3 bunches for £1’. I probably won’t buy any here if I can find them, as they’ll already be open and the joy of watching them unfurl won’t be an option.
Purple sprouting broccoli’s even more unknown. I haven’t even found an exact translation. Like other English here, if I want to eat it, I have to grow it myself, with seed brought over from England. For 9 months of the year, the large ungainly plants occupy more than their fair share of the vegetable plot, and really, half the time I wonder whether it’s worth it. Well, it is. Today, I picked the very first handful of tightly closed purple heads, enclosed in a collar of dark frilly leaves. And now I know that there’ll be enough and to spare for several weeks to come.
Such a special vegetable deserves to be more than a bit part, one of two veg. playing second fiddle to a plate of meat. This is the meal we cooked this evening, thanks to Nigel Slater and his newest book ‘Tender’ (Read it, even if you don’t cook much. It’s as good as a bedtime story, though it WILL make you greedily hungry)
Pasta with Sprouting Broccoli & Cream
250g. sprouting broccoli
250 g. orechiette or fusilli
2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
4 chopped anchovy fillets
250 g. crème fraîche
170 g. crumbled gorgonzola (well, we used Roquefort – you would round here)
Put 2 pans of boiling salted water on the stove. Drop the pasta into one, and the trimmed broccoli into the other. As soon as the broccoli’s tender – 3 or 4 minutes- drain it, wipe the pan, and return it to the heat with the butter, garlic and anchovies. Let them cook slowly for a minute or two before adding the crème fraîche and cheese. Bring to the boil and turn down the heat. Add the broccoli, season with black pepper, and then add the drained pasta.
Cheap, quick, delicious, and a real celebration of early spring