I've always been a big fan of sprouting broccoli and cauliflower, and it seems that farmers around the country are growing both for the best part of the year now. There was a time when the Cornish cauliflower season was during the winter, and the summer season was up north, but now we seem to find West Country caulis available almost all year round. Likewise, with sprouting broccoli: those lovely dark green spears just seem to go on and on, and I like to use them like asparagus, as they share many of the same qualities – they are perfect, for example, dipped into hollandaise sauce for a starter, or served with some mature cheese shaved on top.
I've never quite been into the "normal" variety of broccoli; it just seems rather dull and uninteresting compared to the leafy sprouting variety. One reason for its unexciting reputation, perhaps, is because British cooks haven't been terribly adventurous over the years when it comes to cooking the stuff – it tends to just get boiled and dished up with not much enthusiasm. As with most veg, however, the possibilities are endless if you use your imagination.
Fried duck egg with sprouting broccoli and capers
A simple dish such as this can be served as a colourful and fun brunch dish, snack or starter. I often serve sprue asparagus like this, as you can use the yolk of the egg rather like a sauce and the sharpness of the capers cuts the fattiness of the yolk.
200g or so of tender sprouting broccoli, trimmed of any woody stems
4 duck eggs
2tbsp capers, rinsed
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Cook the sprouting broccoli in boiling, salted water for 4-5 minutes or until tender, then drain in a colander (if the stalks are thick just split the stems with a knife prior to cooking).
Cut the broccoli into smallish pieces and keep warm.
Fry the eggs gently in half of the butter, seasoning the white as they are cooking, then transfer on to warmed plates. Melt the rest of the butter in a pan, add the broccoli and capers and season. Spoon the broccoli, capers and butter around the eggs and serve immediately.
Cauliflower soup with bacon and cob nuts
1 medium onion, roughly chopped
1 leek, white part only, roughly chopped
2-3 good knobs of butter
1 small- to medium-sized cauliflower, roughly chopped, with the dark outer leaves cut off
750ml vegetable stock (a good cube will do)
Salt and freshly ground white pepper
2tbsp grated hard cheese such as cheddar
6 rashers of rindless streaky bacon, finely chopped
12-16 cob nuts, shelled and chopped
Melt the butter in a pan and with the lid on gently cook the onion and leek, without colouring, for 4-5 minutes, until they are soft.
Add the cauliflower, stock and milk. Season, bring to the boil and simmer for 35 minutes, with a lid on, or until the cauliflower is soft. Blend in a liquidiser with 3 tablespoons of the cheese until smooth and strain through a fine-meshed sieve and season again if necessary. You can add a little more cheese for added savouriness if you wish.
Meanwhile, heat a heavy-based frying pan and cook the bacon on a medium heat for a minute or so, then add the cob nuts and cook for another couple of minutes until crisp. Transfer to some kitchen paper.
To serve, spoon the soup into warmed soup bowls and scatter the bacon and cobnuts on top.
Fritters of sprouting broccoli with anchovy sauce
A nice way to snack on crisp, sprouting broccoli is to give it this tempura-like treatment. Serve it as a pre-dinner snack, a starter or as a side dish, but make sure you cut the broccoli and leaves down into bite-sized pieces before cooking.
200-250g tender sprouting broccoli, trimmed of any woody stems
Vegetable or corn oil for deep frying
For the batter
4-5tbsp self-raising flour
Enough cold lager to make a smooth batter
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
For the anchovy sauce
12-14 anchovy fillets, finely chopped
4tbsp good-quality mayonnaise
1 clove of garlic, peeled and crushed
Cook the sprouting broccoli in boiling, salted water for 4-5 minutes until tender. You may need to split any thick stems with a knife prior to cooking, and then drain in a colander. Put the self-raising flour in a bowl and gently whisk in enough beer to make a batter (don't worry if there are a few lumps in it), then season. Mix the anchovies, mayonnaise and garlic together and put to one side.
Preheat about 8cm of oil to 160-180C in a large, thick-bottomed saucepan or electric deep-fat fryer.
Cut the sprouting broccoli down into bite-sized pieces, then dip into the batter and deep fry them in a couple of batches, turning them in the fat with a slotted spoon as they are cooking, for 2-3 minutes, until they are lightly coloured and crisp; then remove from the fat and drain on some kitchen paper.
Season with sea salt and serve with the anchovy sauce on the plate or in a dipping pot.
Pan-fried cauliflower with sweetbreads and chanterelles
Pan-frying a thick slice of cauliflower may not seem the obvious thing to do with it, but it is quite delicious with all types of offal or game. You can serve this as a gutsy starter or main course.
1 medium-sized cauliflower
500g lamb's sweetbreads
Vegetable oil for frying
Butter for frying
2tbsp chopped parsley
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Trim any brown leaves from the cauliflower (leave the core) and cook whole, in boiling salted water, for 10-15 minutes, until just cooked. Remove from the water, plunge into cold water and leave to cool. Put the cauliflower on a chopping board and cut a couple of centimetres off each side. Then cut 4 x 2cm-thick slices, across the cauliflower.
Place the sweetbreads in a pan of salted water, bring to the boil and simmer for 2-3 minutes, then drain in a colander. Once cool enough to handle, remove any sinew and membrane.
Heat a couple of tablespoons of vegetable oil in a non-stick frying pan. Lightly flour the cauliflower and cook on a medium heat for about 3-4 minutes on each side until golden. In another non-stick or heavy frying pan, heat a couple of knobs of butter until foaming, season the sweetbreads and cook on a medium heat for 4-5 minutes, turning them as they are cooking, until golden. Transfer to a dish and keep warm.
Add the rest of the butter to the sweetbread pan and toss the chanterelles and parsley in it for about 30 seconds and season.
To serve, put a slice of cauliflower on each plate and arrange the sweetbreads and chanterelles on top.