Updated: May 3, 2019
Once forbidden to be worn by anyone other than royalty, purple historically was associated with wealth and power. Pity the poor spiny dye-murex snail whose secreted mucus once was the only way of manufacturing the colour - it must have taken a hell of a lot of snails. Jenny Joseph's "Warning" poem uses purple as defiance of convention in old age ..."When I grow old , I shall wear purple...". In the sixties purple became the colour, along with orange in paintings, posters and clothes and purple even popped up in songs - remember Jimmi Hendrix and the iconic "Purple Haze" reflecting the drug culture of the time? So you see it's a very special colour - and I just love it! It's not a colour found often on one's dinner plate but since the foodies discovered it's full of antioxidants, purple food is everywhere - potatoes, carrots even cauliflower, as well as the more usual figs and eggplants. I couldn't resist painting this glorious bunch of Purple Sprouting Broccoli in season this month and have done a bit of digging into its history.
Purple Sprouting Broccoli – Did you know?
The word Broccoli comes from the Italian brocco meaning branch or arm. This particular arm stretches back in time to 500BC, when legend has it that the Etruscans dug up a little man from deep in the soil. They named him Tages, thenceforth taking all his advice about the soil, making the Etruscans renowned horticulturalists. Broccoli finally arrived in England mid 18th century called Italian Asparagus – a vital clue to the nationality of its importer.
As well as being such a gorgeous colour, purple sprouting broccoli is very nutritious. It contains vitamins C and A and is packed with carotenoids, calcium, folic acid, iron, fibre and something I can’t pronounce, called sulporaphane, that’s believed to help prevent cancer and build resistance against heart disease, diabetes and osteoporosis. So what’s not to like? Some people don’t like it though, and most children have an aversion to it. No doubt its pungent odour has something to do with it, especially when cooking. Since it's now dubbed a superfood, overcome any resistance you may have as you strive for good health!
To avoid its malodorous inconvenience, you need to cook broccoli as fast as you can (steaming is best) or eat it raw in salads and dips. Overcooked broccoli really does smell horrid and soggy broccoli is a heinous crime. It’s great with other strong flavours - anchovies, garlic, nuts, cheese and spices. The creator of one of the earliest known cookery books, the Roman, Marcus Gavious Apicius, describes preparing broccoli with a mixture of cumin and coriander seeds, chopped onion plus a few drops of sun-made wine. Sounds good to me. Add it to an omelette or frittata with some grated parmesan and pumpkin seeds or try this:
Sprouting Broccoli au gratin:
250g sprouting broccoli any tough ends removed.
100g crème fraiche
100g grated gruyere or cheddar,
a couple of anchovies chopped (optional)
salt and freshly ground black pepper and a handful of breadcrumbs (Panko is good)
Steam (5mins) or blanch the broccoli until just tender (about 3mins). Drain well and lay in a greased shallow gratin dish. Season to taste.
Mix together the crème fraiche, anchovies (if using) and most of the cheese, then pour over the broccoli. Jiggle it around a bit with a fork so the sauce gets well into the broccoli. Mix a handful of breadcrumbs with the remaining cheese, sprinkle over the top and place under a hot grill until golden and bubbling. Enjoy!