I don't like the fact that there will be a mini-heatwave the weekend after you pack away your summer clothes. I don't like the fact that there will be rain on the day you wear open-toed sandals to work. I don't like the way the Underground turns into a movable sauna as soon as the temparature gets above freezing. And I don't like the fact that last year, the summer consisted of approximately ten sunny days!
But what I love, love, love about London's weather is its four absolutely distinct seasons.
I know this is not unique to London, but having lived in Totally Temperate Port Elizabeth all my life and then moving here, it is the first place where I experienced this astonishing seasonality. The sheer excitement and exhilaration of seeing dead trees suddenly sprout green leaves and having daffodils poke up through the snow. The typically English pleasure of sipping Pimms in your garden at 9pm on a midsummer evening – and stil having sunlight. The incredibly rich palette of Autumn leaves and the smell of woodsmoke in the crisp air. And the wonderful surprise of throwing open your curtains on a Winter morning and finding the world totally transformed by a white blanket of snow.
And with this discovery of the seasons also came a far greater appreciation for seasonal eating. In South Africa, it was always seen as a coup to be able to serve strawberries in the middle of winter. But these days, I wait with eager anticipation for winter so that I can gorge on Brussels sprouts and Jerusalem artichokes; and by the same token, I get inordinately excited when Spring and Summer's bounty starts appearing in the shops: wild garlic, rhubarb, broad beans, strawberries, and purple sprouting broccoli.
As always, I am a little tardy with my post and the world and its uncle has already written about purple sprouting broccoli (PSB), so I won't go into too much detail. Suffice to say that sprouting broccoli is a variety of broccoli which grows into many thin sprouts, rather than one large compact head. And the fact that it's purple is not down to some mad scientist playing around with genetic engineering, but an abundance of the naturally-occurring antioxidant anthocyanin. So apart from being improbably, appealingly purple, this member of the brassica family packs potentially even more of an anti-ageing and cancer-fighting punch.
For some reason, the place where I've bought the most PSB this season has been… Lidl. None of the big supermarkets near us regularly stock it and I haven't the energy to spend my weekends fighting the crowds at Canary Wharf to visit Waitrose. So Lidl it is - and good for them for stocking English PSB! If you think the taste is going to be as shockingly different as the colour, you will be disappointed – I can't say it tastes that different to plain old green broccoli. But there is something appealing and delicate about the long, thin stems – and that colour is too good to miss. One word of warning though - don't overcook the PSB. One minute too long and you end up with the plain green stuff!
I have served PSB steamed as a side dish before, but this time I had other plans in mind. I'd spotted Eat Like A Girl's wonderful pasta recipe featuring PSB and I just knew I had to make it. The only changes I made were adding shallots, substituting chile flakes for the fresh chile, and adding a touch of cream (because Nick is a creamy pasta saucy kinda guy!). What makes this recipe is its simplicity and focus on great ingredients. Nothing is messed about with and the combination of sweet and salty flavours is perfect. Thanks Niamh – this recipe's a keeper!
PASTA WITH PURPLE SPROUTING BROCCOLI, ANCHOVIES AND PECORINO (serves 2)
250g pasta (I used some we'd brought back from Rome, somwehere between tagliatelle and Spaghetti in shape)
300g purple sprouting broccoli, washed, trimmed and cut into 2.5cm lengths
6-8 tinned anchovies, finely chopped
3 shallots, finely chopped
1 large clove garlic, crushed
1/2 tsp red chile flakes
4 tbsp grated Pecorino
salt & black pepper
4 Tbsp single cream
some pecorino shavings to serve
Cook the pasta in plenty of salted water, according to packet instructions.
While the pasta is cooking, heat 2 tbsp olive oil over medium heat in a heavy-bottomed frying pan and saute the garlic, shallots, chile and anchovies (mine were tinned in garlic and herbs, so I addedd a little of the delicious oil too) until the onion starts to soften.
Add the broccoli and cook for a couple of minutes until it just starts to become tender – don't overcook! Stir a few tablespoons of water from the pasta into the pan, together with the grated Pecorino. Mix well, then stir in the cream. You won't get a heavy sauce, but you will get enough liquid to coat the pasta (and please your husband!) Season with salt and pepper (remember the anchovies are pretty salty already).
Drain the pasta and add it to the broccoli sauce. Toss and serve in warmed bowls topped with the pecorino shavings and a green salad on the side.
Here's what some other bloggers did with PSB:
Coffee and Vanilla's egg noodles with PSB and tofu
A Slice of Cherry Pie's PSB with mint
The Passionate Cook's PSB and smoked haddock Quiche
Real Epicurean's PSB with Parmesan crumbs
Book the Cook's PSB and sheep's cheese tart