Bold as brassica: Mark Hix cooks with sprouting broccoli

It's tastier, prettier and more sophisticated than its commoner cousin
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Indy Lifestyle Online

I'm a big fan of sprouting broccoli – it's got so much more sophistication than its common cousin, the calabrese, and it is also much less commonly seen on restaurant menus in this country.

Sprouting broccoli can be used in just the same way as asparagus and it has endless uses as a starter, as an accompaniment, or integrated into a dish. We have been buying white sprouting broccoli for our restaurants recently, and although it can look a bit anaemic on its own, it looks great when served alongside green or purple sprouting broccoli – and tastes delicious in its own right, too.

I do hope you're tempted to give the sprouting stuff a try – shoppers in this country just tend to fill their baskets with the common-or-garden variety, which tastes of nothing whatsoever.

Deep-fried sprouting broccoli with almonds, chilli and garlic

Serves 4 as a starter

This is a kind of vegetarian version of the fantastic soft-shell crab I often order in Yauatcha in Soho. I'm totally hooked, as you have probably gathered by now, on Doves Farm gluten-free self-raising flour – the stuff works like a dream when it comes to creating light battered dishes.

200-250g sprouting broccoli, trimmed of any woody stalks and washed
100g Doves Farm gluten-free self-raising flour
Cold water, to mix
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Vegetable or corn oil for deep frying
1 large red chilli, thinly sliced
4 large cloves of garlic, thinly sliced
40g flaked almonds

Cook the broccoli in boiling salted water for a couple of minutes then drain in a colander and leave to cool. Preheat about 8cm of oil to 160-180C in a large, thick-bottomed saucepan or electric deep-fat fryer. Put the self-raising flour in a mixing bowl and whisk enough cold water in to make a light batter and season. Dip the broccoli in the batter and fry in a couple of batches for 2-3 minutes, moving them around with a slotted spoon, until crisp. Remove from the fat and drain on some kitchen paper and season with a little salt.

Transfer a couple of tablespoons of the hot oil to a frying pan and quickly cook the chilli and garlic on a medium heat for a minute, stirring and lightly colouring them; add the almonds, season with a little salt and continue cooking and stirring for a couple of minutes until the almonds are lightly coloured. To serve, lay the broccoli on a warmed serving dish and spoon the almond mixture over.

Fried duck egg with sprouting broccoli and anchovies

Serves 4

Everyone knows that asparagus can be dunked into a boiled egg or hollandaise sauce, and sprouting broccoli can be treated the same way. Here, I have just used the tips of the sprouting broccoli, so you could keep the stalks for the soup recipe below. The addition of anchovies creates a nice, natural, salty seasoning.

4 duck eggs
70-80g butter
4-5 spears of sprouting broccoli
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
50g can or jar of good-quality anchovies

Remove the florets and a few leaves from the broccoli and reserve the stems for a soup. Cook them in boiling, salted water for 2-3 minutes until tender, then drain and leave to cool. Meanwhile, melt half of the butter in a non-stick frying pan and gently fry the duck eggs, seasoning the whites as they are cooking, then transfer to warmed serving plates. While the eggs are cooking, melt the rest of the butter in another pan and toss in the broccoli florets and leaves, and lightly season. Cut the anchovies in half lengthways, scatter the broccoli and leaves around the eggs; lay the anchovy fillets on the whites.

Grilled chicken with broccoli

Serves 4

Try to buy the best free-range chicken breasts you can for this, or remove the breasts from a whole chicken and make some other dishes with the bones and legs. Some sprouting broccoli can have really woody stalks, but don't be tempted to use them for the purée or they will block your blender. You can also add a dash of vincotto for extra zing if you wish.

150-200g sprouting broccoli, trimmed of any woody ends
4 good-quality chicken breasts with the skin on
A little vegetable or corn oil for grilling
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
A couple of good knobs of butter

Trim some florets from the sprouting broccoli and reserve to use as garnish later. Chop what remains with the stalks and cook in boiling salted water for 7-8 minutes until it's soft.

Drain the broccoli, then purée it in a food processor or liquidiser until fairly smooth, adding a few drops of water to help the broccoli blend if necessary. Transfer to a clean pan, season and add a knob or two of butter.

Meanwhile, heat a ribbed griddle or heavy frying pan, season the chicken breasts and cook for 3-4 minutes with the skin side down, then turn over and cook for 3-4 minutes on the other side. While the chicken is cooking, drop the florets in boiling salted water and cook for a couple of minutes, then drain and heat up the purée.

To serve, spoon the purée on to warmed serving plates, toss the florets in some butter and season. Cut the breasts in half and place on the purée and spoon the florets and butter over.