Rebecca Shearer speaks to the experts behind the cultivation and cooking foods currently in season. This week, she learns about the benefits of broccoli…
It may not be something that has crossed your mind before, but broccoli is a seasonal vegetable and is likely to be growing on a farm or in a greenhouse near you.
A nutritional powerhouse filled with minerals, vitamins and antioxidants, there are so many ways we can incorporate broccoli into our diets if it isn’t there already. But, before we venture out into the big bad world of seasonal cooking, we spoke to some of the experts about how we should best grow it, store it and cook it.
When is broccoli season?
Christopher Trotter, Fife’s Food Ambassador and author of many cookbooks including one called “Broccoli” says that seasons vary depending on the type of broccoli.
He says: “The problem with broccoli is that it covers a multitude of sins. There’s calabrese broccoli, which is in season now and is the big chunky green type that everyone will be familiar with. It is in season between June and November.
“There’s also purple sprouting broccoli, which is usually in season from January to May, and there’s also tenderstem which is is similar to purple sprouting broccoli, which tends to be year round. Usually tenderstem is unfortunately imported so I tend to avoid it unless I know it’s specifically grown in this country.
“There’s also romanesco, which is a sort of cross between cauliflower and calabrese, and that will be in season just now as well.
“Calabrese is grown very widely in Scotland and a lot of people will be harvesting it just now, between June and November, so it’s quite a long season.”
Fiona Smith from Westerton Farmers in Laurencekirk grows broccoli regularly.
She says: “The Scottish broccoli season can vary depending on when they are planted and you can actually extend the season by staging your planting. We plant ours and propagate it in a greenhouse or polytunnel-type environment at the beginning of May.
“Broccoli is definitely more of a summer vegetable as I don’t think it would deal very well with frost.”
Can we grow broccoli at home?
Broccoli is relatively easy to grow at home, even if you don’t have a big garden as it doesn’t take up too much space, says Fiona.
“If you stage the planting then you could probably get away with it right up until the end of June and that would keep you going throughout the season.
“Broccoli is a trickier one because it doesn’t actually keep for very long on the stalk once it’s ready and it really depends on how much you’re planting. If you put the seeds in a little pot in the greenhouse probably about March or April and planted it in May then you’d have the plant ready around July time.
“It’s pretty straightforward to grow broccoli at home. We don’t spray any of our vegetables at all so there’s no fertiliser or chemicals required in growing it though it does like a bit of shelter, especially when it’s a young plant. So, either a spot in the garden which still gets some sunlight but is sheltered from the wind, or in a greenhouse would work.
“It doesn’t take up much room as a plant so it could also be grown in an indoor space or even a small garden where there’s just a patio and not much space.”
How should we store broccoli?
Despite growing in warm conditions, once broccoli has sprouted it needs to be stored in the fridge otherwise it will start to wilt quickly.
Christopher says: “The best way to store broccoli is in the fridge to keep it cold, certainly at this time of year, because it’s so warm. Once broccoli is cut it begins to go yellow and discolours very quickly. So I would get it in the fridge if you’re not going to use it straight away but the big thing is to buy little and often when it comes to broccoli.
“It’s very easy to get hold of at farm shops and in the veg boxes that people will be getting delivered.”
Fiona agrees: “Broccoli is best stored in the fridge. Definitely keep it cool – it doesn’t like heat and it won’t like direct sunlight. If you left it out of the fridge in the kitchen it would wilt really quickly and would start to turn yellow.”
What are some of the best ways to cook with broccoli?
Many people may not realise that broccoli can be eaten raw and that the whole plant, including the often disregarded stalks, can be used in cooking.
Fiona highlights the fact that every part of the broccoli, as well as the leaves, can be used in various different ways.
“Something we are trying to promote on the farm at the moment is using the whole plant. So if you get broccoli with the outer green leaves on it, they can also be used – in a stir-fry, or in the same way as spinach and just wilt them down in a pan with some oil and some sea salt with a bit of soy over them. You can also try oven roasting them for some nice crispiness.
“I’m a huge advocate for seasonal food anyway and I think we’ve got such a great larder here in Scotland. Broccoli is nutritional, it’s so tasty, it’s really versatile and there’s so many ways you can use it.”
Christopher also points out that it’s perhaps one of the most versatile vegetables you can cook with.
“A lot of people don’t realise you can cook with the whole broccoli – they’ll do what they do with cauliflower and cut off the nice florets at the top and will cut away the stalk – you don’t need to do that as the bottom of the stalk will already have been cut for you.
“The stalk can be sliced into little matchsticks, which is fantastic in a sitr-fry. Or simply mix it with some onions and ginger. Then when they’ve cooked for a while, bung them in the pan with the florets and a splash of boiling water and put the lid on then that will steam the broccoli cooked. Then take the lid off and that’s it done.”
Christopher’s Savoy broccoli and potato pie
- 800g potatoes, cut into small cubes
- 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- Large onion, peeled and chopped
- 200g smoked, streaky bacon cut in lardons
- 500g broccoli, cut in small florets
- 150ml dry white wine
- 400g Reblochon (or a soft brie or Camembert), cut into cubes like the potato
- 3 tbsp creme fraiche
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
- Heat the oven to 200°C, fan 180°C, gas mark 6.
- Cook the potatoes for 10 minutes in water, drain and set aside.
- Blanche and refresh the broccoli.
- Heat a large frying pan with the oil and fry the onion and lardons until cooked but not crisp.
- Add the wine and simmer gently for 5 minutes, remove from the heat.
- Stir in the potatoes, cubes of cheese, creme fraiche and season.
- Take an ovenproof serving dish and pour in half the potato mixture, scatter over the broccoli and then finish with the remaining potato mixture.
- Bake in the oven for 30 minutes until lightly brown and bubbling.
Recipe from Broccoli by Christopher Trotter, £5.95 available here.
Read more in this series…