I LOVE purple sprouting broccoli. It's a permanent feature in my fridge at this time of year and, arriving as it does at the end of the Winter season, it gives a little glimpse of the change in cooking styles from the hearty root vegetable dishes to the lighter, fresher meals of the coming Spring and Summer months. As with English asparagus during its short season, I like to make the most of it, so much so that I think that secretly Andrew is glad when it disappears again from the greengrocers...
It has a unique flavour which really needs showing off... One of the nicest and simplest ways is to serve it lightly steamed and then tossed with red chilli, garlic, olive oil and a squeeze of lemon juice either as part of an antipasti type plate or as a side dish. I was about to include this in my meal plans for last weekend when I remembered a recipe in the Early Spring section of Paradiso Seasons by Denis Cotter - Purple Sprouting Broccoli with dried tomatoes and garlic on a corn pancake of leeks and puy lentils, with a rosemary cream. The title says it all...in fact I think it wins the prize for the longest recipe title of all time!
I bought Paradiso Seasons a few years ago knowing nothing of Denis Cotter or his famed vegetarian restaurant in Cork, Ireland - Cafe Paradiso. The recipes in Paradiso Seasons, which won ‘Best Vegetarian Cookbook in the World’ at the Gourmand World Cookbook Awards in Barcelona in 2004, are (as the name suggests...) split into seasons, with Spring divided into Early Spring and Late Spring. If you try to eat local produce, when these seasons fall will undoubtedly depend on where you live and I find that here in London we can sometimes be a week or two ahead of my home county of Derbyshire for example.
The recipes in Paradiso Seasons are the sort that I tend to choose on a Saturday morning whilst flicking through a few cook books with my morning cup of tea and then spend time leisurely preparing for a special weekend dinner. It's not that they're complicated or difficult recipes to cook, just that many of them have several different component parts and, above all, I take great pleasure in spending a few luxurious hours in my kitchen pottering away and creating something special for dinner! My dream, which almost goes without saying, is of course to eat at Cafe Paradiso at some point in the future. I've never been to Cork but I hear its a lovely city to visit, so I have my eye on a weekend away and, what I expect would be, an amazing meal at Cafe Paradiso!
So, the recipe... The purple sprouting broccoli is the star of the show and, as Denis Cotter says himself, the rest of the dish is there to enhance and support this star ingredient. The result is actually quite a light dish (despite the cream sauce) which is perfectly balanced, both in tastes and textures and also as a vegetarian meal. The rich cheesy leek and lentil mixture wrapped in a thin lightly spiced corn pancake works well as a base for the mountain of lightly cooked purple sprouting broccoli. Don't be tempted to leave the rosemary cream off the plate...it complements both the pancake and the broccoli which for some reason amazed me as, whilst I would put rosemary and cream with the pancake ingredients of leeks and puy lentils, I would not have expected them to be such good partners for broccoli and tomatoes. Instead of dried tomatoes, I used semi-dried tomatoes in oil which I already had in the fridge, but I think they were a little too soft and broke down too much, so I'll seek out some dried tomatoes for next time (and there will definitely be a next time!).
(Denis Cotter has kindly said that I can reproduce his recipe here so watch this space for an update...!).