Sunday, 3 April 2016

Sprouting Broccoli

Sprouting broccoli is a garden life-raft when you can no longer stand another leathery leek, rubbery parsnip nor sulphurous brussels sprout. On our return from our winter travels in early February, we were welcomed by the first florets but the cold nights had rendered the stems a little too tough and scarce. Now that spring is firmly established, the florets have their natural sugary and tender earthiness and are bursting with character.

Each little floret is made up of thousands of unopened flower buds that if unharvested, will bloom into yellow flowers adored by all bumble and honeybees who have suffered a similar winter food deprivation as us. 

The first floret is equivalent in pleasure to the first pea, asparagus spear or broad bean. Its the best reminder that nature has turned full circle and spring is here because just yesterday I sowed 20 pots of the same sprouting broccoli that will germinate, vegetate as finger-sized plants over summer and spurt into life during the cooler months of mid-autumn to sprout and surprise me again at the same time next march.

I have often been guilty of cooking sprouting broccoli to a sulphurous pulp through a 10-second lack of attention moment. Within an hour of harvest, the florets are still bursting with their natural sugars and their tender florets need no more than 2 minutes sauna so as not to drown their tender buds. They need to be brilliant green not grey green. They need to have bite - the stems crunching between your teeth, the leaves conserving a little tartness while the flower-heads melt in the mouth. And then they need little more than a trickle of fruity olive oil and a sprinkle of sea salt but can cope well with more vigorous flavours such as anchovies, chilli pepper and parmesan cheese but eat quickly  on a warm plate as, for some strange reason,, broccoli florets go cold very very fast.

Polenta with Sprounting Broccoli
6 people

2 litres Water
150g Grated Parmesan
150g Butter
Sea Salt and Pepper

1.5kg Sprouting Broccoli
Olive Oil
7 Garlic Cloves sliced
300g finely sliced Bacon or Pancetta
2 dried Chillies, crumbled (depending on their spiciness of course)
Sea Salt and Pepper

Bring the water to the boil with a teaspoon of salt in a thick-bottomed saucepan. Pour in the polenta while whisking to prevent lumps forming and until the mixture is smooth. Lower the heat and cook for 45 minutes or until the polenta falls away from the sides of the pan.
Discard the thick stems of the broccoli and divide into smaller florets guarding the leaves.
Bring to the boil, a large saucepan of salted water and blanch the broccoli for a minute. Drain well.
Heat 3 tablespoons of olive oil and a large frying pan and add the pancetta. Cook until it starts to colour and then add the garlic and chilli. Once the garlic is golden add the broccoli leaves and flowers and mix together to combine the flavours. Season.
Add the butter and 100g of parmesan to the polenta and season with salt and pepper.
Divide the polenta between plates and spoon over the broccoli. Drizzle with a good olive oil and a little grated parmesan.

On a more Easterly note....
Its hard to fathom that there are male hunters out there lurking in the woods with brains so big that they actually went to the trouble of crossing a wild `Garenne` rabbit with an easter bunny to create a monster, immune to myxomatosis that stalk the countryside, ravaging young plants and tree bark. These monsters were liberated years back in the local forests and a little by little hopped their way through the surrounding countryside wiping out generations of fresh green vegetables and beetroot greens.
Last year on our way home late at night, I remember Jean Francois noting how many of these mutant lepordiae that froze in our headlights, twitching their cute little noses before their fluffy white cotton tails disappeared into the nearest hedge, lived far from Mailhos. We almost found it funny that our nearest neighbours were enduring late night rabbit, rave parties wile Mailhos was quiet. This was just the calm before the storm!
By October the late lettuce leaves and swiss chard leaves began to dissapear overnight. Celeriac were nibbled down to a vessel of hardened skin in a few hours, parsley munched to the root, young onions halved in their prime while young fruit trees had their bark gnawed to the core. War was declared on fluffy bunnies!
Lulu is first in line, killing en masse the newest generation of babies. Jean Francois covers bunny nests with 10 kilo rocks while I spray juniper essential oil on wooden posts and hardened tree trunks to repel the bastards but they still come back.

I read on the net that the Foundation for a Rabbit-Free Australia advocates blowing up warrens with dynamite while we are considering less violent methods like borrowing a lurcher and lamping them frozen before setting the dog on them, attaching a hosepipe to the car`s exhaust piper and running it down the burrows, investing in a ferret or just shooting them with a .22 long rifle. Then again, Marcel our neighbour did say that using such killing techniques we can probably wipe out 80% of the population but the other 20% will breed so prolifically that in less than a year they`ll be back in force.
Perhaps I`ll just stick with killer Lulu, cat litter deterrent, peeing in the garden and a little meditation....!

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