The word broccoli conjures up the image of a dark green globe of close-knit florets but not all broccoli is created green. Some years ago, Janet Czarnecki of Redwood Roots Farm introduced me to purple sprouting broccoli as part of the farm's winter CSA share and I will be forever grateful for that encounter.
Many vegetables bring an excited smile to my face: purple sprouting broccoli is high on the list. When you purchase it, you get many small shoots with tender leaves and thin stalks. It catches your attention for its lovely purple color and it rewards you with easy handling: You eat the whole thing (only discarding stems if they are really thick or woody).
Among the articles retrieved in an online search on the vegetable, one by English chef and food writer Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall (of River Cottage fame) offers my favorite introduction to purple sprouting broccoli: "Even the name is rather marvellous: pur-ple-sprou-ting-broc-co-li. Seven sumptuous syllables: you've got yourself the second line of a haiku right there." Just like me, Fearnley-Whittingstall favors steaming, noting "the spears cook to tenderness without trapping water in their leafy, buddy nooks and crannies."
Sadly, the attractive color does not survive steaming. The vivid green of steamed sprouting broccoli, however, soon makes the eyes forget the lost purple. The palate cares little about the color, once it tastes the captivating, mildly sweet flavor.
My own petite size makes me particularly sensitive to the charms of small things, small vegetables included. But I think that if you find some purple sprouting broccoli at the farmers' market and bring it home with you, you'll know that the god of small things got this experiment right. And if you have a vegetable garden, consider growing this pretty broccoli variety.
I honor the flavor of purple sprouting broccoli with lightness of hand in preparing it. I like to serve it as a side dish, steamed first then sautéed in olive oil with garlic. This is a traditional way of preparing leafy greens in Italy (chicory, spinach and others). My personal touch is to balance the garlic flavor with toasted sliced almonds.
Purple Sprouting Broccoli with Almonds and Garlic
Serves 2 as a side dish. (Makes a nice accompaniment to any main dish, really.)
½ pound purple sprouting broccoli
1 ½ tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
3 garlic cloves, peeled
1-2 pinches of fine sea salt, to taste
2 tablespoons sliced almonds, lightly toasted in a dry skillet
Divide the purple sprouting broccoli into individual florets, each with a short stem, cutting the large ones in half lengthwise. Cut the thicker stems in half lengthwise, then into short (about 1-inch) pieces. Keep the leaves. Rinse under cold water.
Steam the broccoli for about 5 minutes, until just tender (use the point of a sharp knife to test). Transfer to a bowl.
Heat a wok over medium heat. Add the olive oil and swirl it around.
Drop the garlic in the warm oil and stir. Lower the heat and stir, letting the garlic flavor the oil for 1 minute.
Add the steamed broccoli to the wok and turn up the heat to medium. Stir to coat the broccoli with the oil.
Turn down the heat to medium-low and keep stirring. After 1 minute, sprinkle the sea salt and stir well.
Take the wok off the heat and distribute the sliced almonds on the broccoli. Give another good stir and serve immediately, leaving the garlic behind.