Garden Stir-Fry – the way to use up unwanted veg

One of the best dishes for cooking up unwanted veg from the garden or your fridge has got to be a stir-fry.

Almost and veg can go in, a basic one is very quick, once you have prepared all of the vegetables and the content shrinks down so much in the pan, that you can easily get rid of a few items from the storage.

I think you could probably get away with any veg but it all depends on taste. Personally, these veggies seem to be good to use, according to me:

carrots, bell peppers, celery, broccoli, cauliflower, cucumber is surprisingly good, any green leaves, like spinach, pak choi, swiss chard, Spanish tree cabbage, ordinary cabbage, kale, spring onions, garlic, normal onions, sweetcorn, mushrooms…

I’m sure there are more.

Another good think about stir-fries is that they can easily be vegetarian or vegan too. I don’t make them as much as I should do, but stir-fries are the way to use up veg when you have a glut.

So here is ONE basic, simple stir-fry recipe that is veggie/vegan appropriate. I use stir-fry oil from Sainsbury’s (because I’m lazy) but for this recipe I have included the basic flavourings for making your flavourings from scratch.

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A Basic Mushroom Stir-Fry

(Serves 4)

For the flavourings:

-2tbsp olive oil -2 garlic cloves, finely diced -2 spring onions or 1 large onion, finely diced -1tsp grated ginger -1/2tsp finely diced chilli

-8 mushrooms, finely sliced -1 red, 1 yellow, 1 green (or the equivalent in the same colour) bell peppers, de-seeded and finely sliced -4 celery stalks, sliced -3 handfuls each of kale, swiss chard, tree cabbage and spinach; de-stalked and shredded

-Dash of soy sauce -Dash of sesame seed oil

-Noodles, to serve

  1. Heat the oil up in the pan. Add the garlic and the onion and sauté gently. Turn the heat down to simmer and add the ginger and chilli. Stir for about a minute.
  2. Add in the sliced mushrooms, bell peppers and celery. Fry for a few minutes until starting to look a little brown.
  3. Stir in the shredded green leaves. Leave for a few more minutes and then add a dash of soy sauce and sesame seed oil. Stir and leave for a minute or two.
  4. Serve with noodles.

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Recipe: Poached Egg with Broccoli

We’ve just been picking our (lately planted) Calabrese broccoli this week.

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So in the spirit of the good old green, some people’s worst enemy, but a delicious green flower to me, here is a little easy-peasy recipe to try at home.

It might sound like a strange combination – but really, eggs are surprisingly good with broccoli. I urge you to give it a try.

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Poached Egg with Broccoli

(Serves 1)

-1 egg -1 medium sized broccoli -Salt and pepper, to season (optional) -A slice of bread or some potatoes (optional)

  1. Bring two small pans of water to the boil. In one pan, add in the broccoli once you have cut the florets up into small pieces. Peel of the outside of the stem and cut into matchsticks and those are delicious boiled too. Reduce to simmer for about 10 minutes. Drain.
  2. Meanwhile, crack the egg into the other boiling pan of water. Leave to boil for about 2 minutes, or until the egg white looks cooked. Remove from the heat. You can use a poached egg pan instead – in that case, grease one of the egg cups with butter and crack the egg into it and leave it to cook that way. This works better with eggs that are not very fresh than the first technique.
  3. Spoon the egg and the broccoli out onto a plate. Add a sprinkling of salt and pepper, optional, and serve with some bread or some cold potatoes, optional again. This can make a nice, light lunch, or a starter to a fancy dinner party.

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Mustard

Mustard plants are any of several plant species in the genera Brassica and Sinapis in the family Brassicaceae. Mustard seed is used as a spice ( Collecting Mustard Seeds). Grinding and mixing the seeds with water, vinegar, or other liquids, creates the yellow condiment we buy from the supermarkets. The seeds can also be pressed to make mustard oil, and the leaves can be eaten as mustard greens.

The word mustard is derived from the Latin mustum or must, the grape juice that the Romans mixed with honey and the ground seeds of the mustard plant (sinapi) to create their mustum ardens, or ‘burning must’.

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(Photo from the internet – I don’t have many clear pictures of mustard plants despite there being such a huge quantity in my veg patches…)

Some varieties of mustard plants were well-established crops in Hellenistic and Roman times but it is historically noted that: “There are almost no archeological records available for any of these crops”. Wild forms of mustard and its relatives, the radish and turnip, can be located in west Asia and Europe, suggesting that their domestication took place somewhere in that area. However, historians have concluded: “Suggestions as to the origins of these plants are necessarily based on linguistic considerations”. Encyclopædia Britannica states that mustard was grown by the Indus Civilisation of 2500-1700 BCE. According to the Saskatchewan Mustard Development Commission, “Some of the earliest known documentation of mustard’s use dates back to Sumerian and Sanskrit texts from 3000 BC”.

The mustard plant was brought to Britain by the Romans via France and there are numerous Roman recipes that use mustard as an ingredient. However serious mustard production was first recorded in France in the 9th century, usually based in religious establishments and this then spread to Britain in the 9th century. By the 14th century mustard was being grown in various parts of the country including the area around Tewkesbury, where the mustard was mixed with horseradish and took the name of the town. Most mustard produced in the Middle Ages was based on using the whole or crushed seeds, mixing them with liquid and letting the mix mature. The mix was often dried, making it easier for transportation, and then liquid added again when required for use.

In the 18th century, with the developments in milling techniques the husks of the seeds could be more easily removed and the seeds finely ground. The first record of the production of mustard flour is credited to Mrs Clements of Durham in 1720 who managed to keep the milling technique used a secret for some time allowing Durham to become the centre of mustard production in the country and allowing herself to accumulate considerable sums of money selling her mustard flour. Once her milling secret was discovered, other entrepreneurs began to invest in mustard production. Most notable in the 19th century was Jeremiah Colman who began milling mustard at his flour mill in Norwich. His mustard became the English mustard, a finely milled flour, yellow in colour (assisted by the addition of turmeric) and very hot in taste.

Mustard is now a world-wide condiment and there are numerous companies involved in making, using and marketing the product. The whole or ground seeds are still an important ingredient in cooking, especially in India and Asia, while in Europe and the Americas the processed seeds are still used as a table condiment.

There are three main varieties: white (Brassica alba) brown (Brassica juncea) and black (Brassica nigra).

Recent research has studied varieties of mustards with high oil contents for use in the production of biodiesel, a renewable liquid fuel similar to diesel fuel. The biodiesel made from mustard oil has good cold flow properties and cetane ratings. The leftover meal after pressing out he oil has also been found to be an effective pesticide.

We use mustard as green manure. Green manure is created by leaving uprooted or sown crop parts to wither on a field so that they serve as a mulch and soil amendment.  Typically, they are ploughed under and incorporated into the soil while green or shortly after flowering. Green manure is commonly associated with organic farming and can play an important role in sustainable annual cropping systems.The value of green manure was recognized by farmers in India for thousands of years, as mentioned in treatises like Vrikshayurveda. In Ancient Greece too, farmers ploughed broad bean plants into the soil. Chinese agricultural texts dating back hundreds of years refer to the importance of grasses and weeds in providing nutrients for farm soil. It was also known to early North American colonists arriving from Europe. Common colonial green manure crops were rye, buckwheat and oats. Incorporation of green manures into a farming system can drastically reduce, if not eliminate, the need for additional products such as supplemental fertilizers and pesticides.

Benefits of using mustard or any other crop as a green manure:

  • When allowed to flower, the crop provides forage for pollinating insects. Green manure crops also often provide habitat for predatory beneficial insects, which allow for a reduction in the application of insecticides where cover crops are planted.
  • Suppresses other weeds from growing.
  • Green manure acts mainly as soil-acidifying matter to decrease the alkalinity/pH of alkali soils by generating humic acid and acetic acid.
  • Incorporation of cover crops into the soil allows the nutrients held within the green manure to be released and made available to the succeeding crops. This results from an increase in abundance of soil microorganisms from the degradation of plant material that aid in the decomposition of this fresh material.
  • Releases nutrients that improves the soil structure.
  • Reduces likeliness of plant or insect disease, notably verticillium wilt of potatoes.
  • Controls erosion.
  • Used for animal grazing, especially poultry.
  • Contains nitrogen that fertilises the soil without the need of commercial products.

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So I’ve continued to harvest mustard seeds to put in homemade curries, but my mum has gone one step further – she has started harvesting little young mustards and adding them to her egg sandwiches at lunch time. Here is her recipe:

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Egg and Mustard Green sandwich open (with beetroot in it and lettuce on the side)

Egg and Mustard Green Sandwich

(Serves 1)

-1 egg -2 slices of bread (or 1 large cut in half) -Butter -1 tbsp mayonnaise -1 handful of mustard -Lettuce, tomatoes or other salad, to serve

  1. Bring a pan of water to the boil. Stick a pin into the top of the egg and remove. Put the egg into the pan of boiling water and leave until it has become a hard boiled egg (completely solid). This could be between 5-10 minutes.
  2. Remove from the heat, drain the hot water and cover the egg in cold water, leaving it to cool.
  3. Spread butter over the bread so that both halves of the bread are covered on one side.
  4. Once cold, remove the egg from the pan and peel away the shell. Cut the egg into thin slices, then dice so that it is in lots of cubes.
  5. Mix the egg into the mayonnaise and then spread over the buttered bread. Add the mustard greens on top. Close the sandwich and serve with salad.

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Brussels Sprouts

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Sow: February-April

Harvest: October-April

Brussels Sprouts are members of the Gemmifera Group of cabbages, Brassica oleracea, grown for its edible buds. They look like mini-cabbages and taste like slightly stronger versions. The Brussels sprout has long been popular in Brussels, Belgium, and may have originated and gained its name there.

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‘Maximus’

Forerunners to modern Brussels sprouts were likely cultivated in Ancient Rome. Although native to the Mediterranean region with other cabbage species, Brussels sprouts first appeared in northern Europe during the 5th century, later being cultivated in the 13th century near Brussels from which they supposedly derived their name. The French coined the title in the 18th century. It was common to put a landmark on a food. Whether they actually were developed in Brussels is not certain but there are records of Brussels Sprouts around where Brussels is as far back as the 13th century. During the 16th century, they enjoyed a popularity in the Southern Netherlands that eventually spread throughout the cooler parts of Northern Europe.

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I grew this year the brilliant ‘Maximus’ which I highly recommend. I sowed it in February and planted it out after the frosts had gone. I did not harvest any until Christmas Day, Boxing Day and the day after but they could be picked from September onwards if you are lucky. I still have a few small ones left to develop that should see us through the winter months.

Other varieties to consider:

‘Noisette’ and ‘Groininger’ are good earlies, pre-Christmas.

‘Seven Hills’ is recommended for the Christmas season.

‘Wellington’ will offer a late winter harvest as will the red coloured ‘Red Rubine’.

Start sprouts off indoors in February in pots of compost, 1.5cm (1/2 inch) deep. Transplant April-June when the plants are big and strong with at least three leaves growing. Plant firmly in a trench with well rotted manure and Blood Fish and Bone mixed in. Space them 60cm apart. Water well – brassicas need hydration. Prop the plants up with sticks, especially as they get bigger. You will want to net them straight away to keep out the pesky Cabbage Whites, and I am afraid you will have to keep the insect netting on them all year round. However, these hardy plants will not need fleecing or any type of frost protection. In fact, they need a little cold to prosper.

Pick the sprouts from the bottom of the plant upwards, the largest ones first, a few at a time. However, don’t ignore the leaves of the actual plant. They make good cut-and-come-again greens and often taste milder than the sprouts themselves. Take a few at a time. Another thing you can do is chop the tops of the plant off. They taste very mild and are like mini-cabbages when boiled.

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Brussels sprouts are rich in many valuable nutrients. They are an excellent source of vitamin C and vitamin K. They are a very good source of numerous nutrients including folate, manganese, vitamin B6, dietary fiber, choline, copper, vitamin B1, potassium, phosphorus and omega-3 fatty acids. They are also a good source of iron, vitamin B2, protein, magnesium, pantothenic acid, vitamin A, niacin, calcium and zinc. In addition to these nutrients, Brussels sprouts contain numerous disease-fighting phytochemicals including sulforaphane, indoles, glucosinolates, isothiocynates, coumarins, dithiolthiones and phenols. Brussels are credited with reducing cancer, cardiovascular disease and supporting the dietary system as it contains a good amount of fibre.

Steaming or boiling sprouts should only take about 6 minutes. Cook until just tender. They are of course brilliant with Christmas dinner or any other boiled veg meal (sausages and mash, roasted chicken are such examples) but don’t just reserve them for roast dinners. Shredded bacon mixed with Brussels Sprouts makes a good side dish. Bubble and Squeak is a classic. Chestnuts is another good one to mix in. Melted parmesan cheese on top. I personally like boiled potatoes, Brussels sprouts and cranberry sauce mixed together in the form of a dish – a light, warming continuation of Christmas dinner.

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‘Brukale’ Petite Posy

Brukale

Another veg to consider is Brukale – which I actually prefer to Brussels Sprouts. It is a cross between a Brussels Sprout and a Kale. It is basically mini-kales that grow like Brussels Sprouts. Sow indoors in February (try ‘Petite Posy’ from Mr Fothergills) and plant out along with the Brussels Sprouts. Pick them like you would pick Brussels Sprouts and boil them for slightly less longer. Their taste will be less potent than a sprout.

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Brukale and Brussels Sprouts picked for Christmas lunch 2016
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Boiled Brussels Sprouts
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Boiled Brukale
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Christmas Lunch 2016 – homegrown Brussels Sprouts, Brukale, Potatoes, Carrots, Runner beans and cranberry sauce (unfortunately, roasted parsnips and peas were not, fortunately the sausages, bacon, turkey and homemade stuffing were not too!)

Cabbages

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‘Traviata’ Savoy

The cabbage, Brassica orleracea is a leafy green, purple or white biennial plant grown as an annual vegetable crop for its dense leaved heads. Cabbage has been bred selectively for head weight and, well, pretty-looks, frost hardiness, fast growth and storage ability. The appearance of the cabbage head has been given importance in selective breeding, with varieties being chosen for shape, colour and firmness of the leaves.

The cabbage originated from the wild cabbage (also called colewort or field cabbage) and is closely related to broccoli, cauliflower, brussels sprouts, kohlrabi and other similar vegetables that have descended from the same ancestor. ‘Cabbage’ was originally used to refer to multiple forms of B. oleracea, including those with loose or non-existent heads. The original family name of brassicas was Cruciferae that derived from the flower petal pattern thought by medieval Europeans to resemble a crucifix. Brassica derives from bresic, an actual Celtic word for cabbage.  Many European and Asiatic names for cabbage came from the Celto-Slavic root cap or kap, meaning ‘head’. The English word cabbage came from the word caboche, meaning head, too. This in turn has been sourced from the Picard Dialect of Old French. This is a variant of the Old French caboce. 

Ok, complicated origins of language done, onto the rest of the history…

It is difficult to trace the exact origins of the cabbage due to the number of crops given the same name (no surprise for the reader after the previous paragraph) over the centuries but the wild cabbage could have originated in Europe prior to 1000 BC. The wild cabbage that was originally discovered in Britain and other places in Europe was tolerant of salt and found to inhabit rocky cliffs and coastal habitats. Cabbages were probably domesticated by Celts of central and western Europe and along with kale were probably among the first of the brassica family to be domesticated. By early Roman times, Egyptian artisans and children are recorded to have eaten notable amounts of cabbages and turnips alongside a wide variety of pulses. The ancient Greeks are supposed to have eaten some form of cabbage but whether it was similar to the type we eat today remains unknown. Greeks were afraid that cabbages planted too close to grapevines gave the grapes a bad taste due to the strong smelling odour of the plant. This theory is still believed in the country today.

Cabbages were harvested in England as far back as the Celts but it was during the high Middle Ages that the crop became prominent in illustrations and manuscripts and seeds began to be listed for sale for the use of King John II of France when captive in 1360. Cabbages were a staple of the poor man’s diet. In 1420, the ‘Bourgeois of Paris’ noted that the poor ate ‘nothing but cabbages and turnips’. Cabbages spread from Europe into Mesopotamia and Egypt as a winter vegetable and later followed trading routes throughout Asia and the Americas. The absence of Sanskrit or other ancient Eastern language names for cabbage suggests that the crop was not introduced to South Asia until relatively recently. In India, the cabbage was one of several vegetable crops introduced by colonising traders from Portugal who established trade routes from the 14th to 17th centuries. Carl Peter Thunberg reported that the cabbage was not yet known in Japan in 1775. Cabbage seeds traveled to Australia in 1788 with the First Fleet, and were planted the same year on Norfolk Island. It became a favorite vegetable of Australians by the 1830s.

Total world production of all brassicas for calendar year 2012 was 70,104,972 metric tons. The nations with the largest production were China, which produced 47 percent of the world total and India that produced 12 percent. These countries used an enormous surface area in production. The largest yields were from South Korea, which harvested 71,188.6 kilograms per hectare, Ireland (68,888.9 kg/ha), and Japan (67,647.1 kg/ha).

Cabbage consumption varies widely around the world: Russia has the highest annual per capita consumption at 20 kilograms (44 lb), followed by Belgium at 4.7 kilograms (10 lb), the Netherlands at 4.0 kilograms (8.8 lb), and Spain at 1.9 kilograms (4.2 lb). Americans consume 3.9 kilograms (8.6 lb) annually per capita.

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‘Primo’

Start sowing cabbages under the cover of fleece or in little pots/modules indoors for the best results in germination. I have tried both of these approaches and the second worked best for me but I still got adequate results from direct sowing so see what works well for you. The timing varies on the type of cabbage:

Summer/autumn cabbages – sown March-April

Winter cabbages: April-May

Spring cabbages: July-August 

Plant out the cabbies around 6 weeks after sowing when they are 7/8cm tall and are growing their second leaves. Make sure they are planted into soil that has been fertilised well as they are hungry plants that need lots of feeding and watering to become gorgeous, wrinkled balls of good-stuff.

This is my first year of growing cabbages but I planted this year:

Primo F1 – (Sow February-April or July-August for overwinter)

Caserta F1 (mini-savoy) – (January-May)

Traviata F1 (another savoy) – (April-June) – I am harvesting these at the moment – DELICIOUS!

I would also recommend ‘Primero’ and ‘Kilaxy’ – I could not get hold of the seeds in time this year. ‘Primero’ is a red variety for those who would like to grow that colour.

They were all very successful but heaven for slugs and snails.

You can recognise when a cabbage is ready for harvesting when the centre forms a relatively solid heart. Use secateurs or a sharp knife to cut the head free. After you have cut the head off the plant, where the cut stem is, engrave a deep cross into the centre. This is a ‘cut and come again’ approach. The stem will produce small hearts that you can harvest again later. I tried this with ‘Primo’ stems and they have produced sweet little cabbages ready for picking.

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Cabbage white caterpillars are a cabbage’s most deadly enemy. They can decimate a cabbage patch overnight. Use insect netting straight away to protect your crops. The worst problems I have experienced with my cabbages are slug and snail infestations. Due to the insect netting, it means I do not always have the time to check that the cabbages are alright and it is hard to spot slug and snail damage through the green material. When I have harvested them, I have spent a long time picking slugs and snails out from the inner-leaves and the last time I weeded and fed the patch I was there for what felt like hours trying to be rid of those slightly slimy creepy-crawlies. The other big problem I had with about three of my cabbages was flee beetle. They destroyed nearly two but these ones I used for my sauerkraut recipe (see below).

Cabbage is an excellent source of vitamin C and K, containing more than 20% of the Daily Value. Cabbage is also a good source (10–19% DV) of vitamin B6 and folate. Studies suggest that cruciferous vegetables, including cabbage, may have protective effects against colon cancer. Purple cabbage contains anthocyanin that are under preliminary research for potential anti-carcinogenic properties. Cabbages have been used historically as medicinal herb for a variety of purported health benefits. The Ancient Greeks recommended consuming the vegetable as a laxative and used cabbage juice as an antidote for mushroom poisoning, for eye salves, and for liniments used to help bruises heal. In Cato the Elder’s work De Agri Culturia (On Agriculture), he suggested that women could prevent diseases by bathing in urine obtained from those who had frequently eaten cabbage. Roman authors believed it could cure a hangover and Ancient Egyptians ate cabbage at the beginning of meals to prevent the dizzying effects of wine to be drunk later. The cooling properties of the leaves were used in Britain as a treatment for trench foot in World War I, and as compresses for ulcers and breast abbesses. Accumulated scientific evidence corroborates that cabbage leaf treatment can reduce the pain and hardness of engorged breasts, and increase the duration of breast feeding. Other medicinal uses recorded in Europe folk medicine include treatments for rheumatism, sore throat, colic, and melancholy. Both mashed cabbage and cabbage juice have been used in poultices to remove boils and treat warts, pneumonia, appendicitis and ulcers.

How one eats a cabbage depends on the person. I like my green ones (as you can see from the varieties I have planted) shredded/cut up into pieces and boiled. My parents and sister also like red cabbages, boiled and both types shredded and eaten raw, particularly in coleslaw to eat with a baked potato or a quiche (Salad – Lettuce Quiche recipe).

As for boiled cabbage, serve it with any meal you would eat a cooked green with. For example, try it with my Recipe: Mashed Potato, Cheese and Tomato BakeRecipe: Mum’s Fish PiesCalabrese Broccoli  – sausages, potatoes and veg.

The other way I eat cabbage is in sauerkraut. Now, it took me time to like this dish. I trained myself to eat it because of how good it is meant to be for people with gut problems, which I do suffer from time to time. Sauerkraut is finely cut cabbage that has been fermented by various lactic acid bacteria. It has a long shelf life and a distinctive sour flavour, both of which result from the lactic acid that forms when the bacteria ferment the sugars in the cabbage.

Sauerkraut is famously good for your gut. I really like it with cheese –  pasta, salad and cheddar, cheddar or brie melted on toast (my mum eats it with stilton, homemade oat soda bread, chutney and salad), baked potato and cheddar and salad… I also love a bowl of brown rice, lettuce, cut up avocado and sauerkraut all mixed up together. It looks strange and I was afraid to try it for so long (not a fan of vinegar and I didn’t like cabbage until I ate sauerkraut) but I’ve struggled from digestive issues and I took up eating it to cure them – I hasten to add it wasn’t a magic-curing-pill, neither was the raw milk, bio-organic yoghurt, sourdough and Symprove I took up at the same time, but it can still help and it doesn’t matter if it does or not, still tastes surprisingly good judging by how bad it looks and smells! Do not let appearances ruin your appetite, try a little with some cheese and crackers and transform your meal. Best of luck!

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Homemade Sauerkraut

1 red or green cabbage, about 1kg, thinly sliced or shredded

For the brine: – 1 litre water – 60g salt

– Kilner jar or large preserving jar(s)

1.For the brine, put the water and salt in a cooking pot and bring to a simmer, stirring occasionally to encourage the salt to dissolve.

2.Allow to cool, then chill the brine in the fridge to about 5°C.

3.Put the shredded cabbage into a bowl or plastic container and pour in the chilled brine so that it covers the cabbage. It is quite tricky to keep cabbage submerged in brine, but placing a sieve, the right way up, on top of the cabbage, works well.

4.Cover the bowl (with the sieve still on top) with a tea towel or cling film and leave in a cool place, such as a pantry, with an ambient temperature no higher than 23°C, for 2 weeks.This will allow fermentation to begin without letting harmful bacteria multiply.

5.After 2 weeks, drain the brine from the cabbage. Your sauerkraut is now ready to eat. You can store the sauerkraut in a sealed Kilner jar or large jars in the fridge for up to 3 weeks.

Calabrese Broccoli

Calabrese broccoli, an edible green crop from the group Brassica oleracea, from the cabbage family is harvested for its flowering head. Broccoli has large flowering heads, usually green in colour, branching out from a stalk in a tree-like structure from a thick stalk, which is edible, surrounded by giant leaves. The growing style resembles a cauliflower very much.

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‘Ironman’ Calabrese Broccoli – July 2016

The world ‘broccoli’ comes from the Italian word ‘broccolo’, translating as the ‘flowering crest of a cabbage’ and is a diminutive form of ‘brocco’, meaning small snail or sprout. The broccoli we know today is the result of careful breeding of cultivated leafy cole crops in the northern Mediterranean starting in around the 6th century BC. Since the Roman era, broccoli has been considered a unique ingredient in Italy. It is considered that broccoli was first brought to England from Antwerp during the 18th century. Broccoli was first introduced to the USA by Southern Italian migrants but was not well-known until as late as the 1920s where it was written people ate the heads ‘like cauliflowers and the stems like asparagus’.

Calabrese broccoli was named after Calabria in Italy and is what most people refer to when they say ‘broccoli’, rather than sprouting broccoli or purple sprouting broccoli. Cabbages were being grown in what is now Turkey and spreading through the Mediterranean. During around 8th century BC, migrants to Italy supposedly brought the purple sprouting broccoli that established itself in Tuscany. The Romans were quite taken by the vegetable and it became a standard favourite in Rome where the Calabrese variety was developed and adored. Roman farmers named it ‘the five green fingers of Jupiter’. Apicius, cookbook author of ancient Rome, prepared broccoli by first boiling it and then brushing it ‘with a mixture of cumin and coriander seeds, chopped onion plus a few drops of oil and sun-made wine’. The Romans served the broccoli with creamy sauces, flavoured with various herbs and cooked it in wine. Roman Emperor Tiberius’s(14 BC-37 BC) son loved broccoli excessively. Excluding all other foods, he gorged on broccoli prepared in the Apicius manner above for an entire month. When his urine turned bright green and his father scolded him severely, he finally abandoned his beloved broccoli. Catherine de Medici of Tuscany may have been the first to introduce broccoli to France when she married Henry II in 1533. She arrived in France with her Italian chefs and armfuls of vegetables, including broccoli. However, the first mention of broccoli in French history was not until 1560.

The first mention of the vegetable in literature in England names it as ‘sprouting cauliflower’ or ‘Italian Asparagus’. It was not particularly popular when it arrived during the 18th century. Commercial cultivation of broccoli in the USA can be traced to the D’Arrigo brothers, immigrants from Messina, Italy, whose company made some tentative plantings in San Jose, California in 1922. A few crates were initially shipped to Boston, where there was a thriving Italian immigrant culture in the North End. The broccoli business boomed, with the D’Arrigo’s brand name ‘Andy Boy’, named after Stephano’s two-year-old son, supported by advertisements on the radio publicly advertised the green vegetable. Nowadays, broccoli is not so much the ‘stranger’ to the kitchen garden as it was once called by an English writer. In 2013, global production on broccoli was recorded at 22.3 million tonnes, China and India accounting for 76% of its production. Spain, Mexico and Italy were the secondary producers, 0.5 million tonnes annually.

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Broccoli can produce poorly in hot summer weather, growing best at an average 18-23C (64-73F). When a cluster of flowers have grown in the middle, large enough to eat but still green and not turning brown or bolting, the Calabrese broccoli is ready for harvesting.

This is my first year growing a Calabrese broccoli and I was amazed at the results, expecting it to be incredibly difficult and unlikely to ever grow a large enough floret to eat, much like cauliflowers (I harvest mini-ones, not the full sized ones you find in the supermarkets otherwise they will have bolted if I leave them to get bigger). But I have managed to pick a fair few biggish ones, multiple at a time to prevent bolting and because they were still only I would say medium sized but they looked and tasted like proper broccoli! I was very chuffed. The variety I have grown this year is ‘Ironman’, (Sow: January-June, Harvest: June-November).

Sow the seed 0.5cm (1/4inch) deep in a tray of compost. Keep moist and at a warm temperature. I grew mine in a warm bedroom in January and some later ones in March. Once they had germinated, I put them on a sunny windowsill during the day time and then put them on the floor near a radiator at night time again when it was dark and chilly. Once the plants are large enough to handle, gradually accustom them to cooler conditions (I moved them out of the heated bedroom to a cooler windowsill permanently until they were large enough to plant outside). Transplant into well-fertilised soil that has been Blood, Fish and Boned, manured, composted and mulched. Transplant 45cm (18inches) apart, allow 60cm (2inches) between rows. Plant firmly up to the lowest leaves and water well (all brassicas require constant watering). As frost will most likely still be loitering, fleece well for the next few months until all risks of freezing temperatures have gone. Once you remove the fleece, you need to net the broccoli with insect netting to protect your crops from birds, but most particularly cabbage whites that will wreck havoc. It is best to do this immediately after you have removed the fleece.

To harvest, cut the heads from the plants with a fair chunk of stalk and you should get some smaller side-florets following on from your main harvest. They need to be harvested before the flowers on the head bloom bright yellow. Calabrese broccoli is best steamed or boiled: bring a pan of water to the boil. Cut the broccoli florets from the stem, then, using a knife, shred the tougher outside bits of the stalk and cut up the tender inside into match-sticks. Place them both in the pan of water, turning down the heat and leaving to simmer for a few minutes until tender – you don’t want them to be rock solid but you don’t want to leave them too long or they will be a pile of mush and turn tasteless. The other way of cooking broccoli that I like is to add them to a stir-fry. They make a delicious addition and if you do not care for boiled stalks then this is the way to eat them as they accompany an oriental dish wonderfully. The other way is eating it raw, which I have done, but it is for those who really like the strong flavouring of brassicas. Store any cut raw broccoli wrapped in a plastic bag in the fridge and use it as soon as possible, within a week of harvesting.

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Broccoli is an excellent source of vitamin C (20% Daily Value) and vitamins K, A and E. It may be important to note now that not a lot of vegetables include such a significant amount of vitamin K. There are also many nutrients in broccoli including potassium, zinc, fibre, beta carotene, calcium, iron, plus many other essential benefiting nutrients, including carotenoid compounds lutein and zeaxanith. This vegetable can benefit our health, well-being and lifestyle in many ways due to its powerful combination of vitamins and nutrients. It can support and strengthen many areas of the body, such as the digestive system, liver, eyes, heart, skin, and the immune system. Broccoli has been suggested to aid the body in fighting major diseases including cancer and heart disease. This vegetable is rich in energy boosting vitamins that can decrease stress levels and influence concentration, alertness and vitality. Raw broccoli contains several amounts of B vitamins and manganese as well as reducing levels of sulforaphane. However, cooking it does remove these particular nutrients so if you like broccoli raw as well as cooked, then dig in.

Broccoli could potentially help to reduce cholesterol and high-blood pressures due to its nutritional content of enzymes, as well as osteoporosis, heart disease and cancer, as mentioned previously. There has also been research into the possibility of broccoli preventing adult-onset diabetes. Chromium, found in broccoli, boosts the ability of insulin to perform better in people with slight glucose intolerance.

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Eat your broccoli boiled or steamed with any dish that you would eat a cooked green: pasta, rice dishes, roast dinners, it goes very well with cheese… Funnily enough, recalling broccoli as a kid, I remember loving it with spaghetti Bolognese (excluding the mince) with lots of cheddar cheese melted on top of it. Try adding broccoli to your cauliflower cheese, along with boiled courgettes and perhaps potatoes/sweet potatoes if you have any hanging around – a delicious mix.

Fry it in oil and other flavourings for a stir fry and serve with noodles…

Roast or bake it along with carrots and parsnips to serve with your roast chicken and potatoes…

Or try this combination for a simple, hearty and nutritious weekday supper: Sausages and Rice with Vegetables.

Mix and match the vegetables and accompaniments for anything you like. For myself, I eat Glamorgan sausages (vegetarian, containing leeks, potatoes and Welsh cheddar cheese wrapped up in a breadcrumb coating) while my family eat organic free-range sausages. You can also swap the rice for potatoes if you have an influx of them too.

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Sausages/Glamorgan Sausages with Rice and Boiled Vegetables

(Serves 6)

– 6 -12 organic sausages/ 6-12 glamorgan sausages – 400g rice – 1 large (or equivalent) broccoli – 1 large cauliflower – 150g peas – 100g kale, de-stalked – 4 medium sized courgettes – 4 medium sized carrots – To serve, optional, redcurrant jelly, cranberry sauce, mint jelly, mustard, gravy, sliced onions fried in olive oil

  1. Preheat oven 200C. Put the sausages on a non-stick baking tray and leave in the oven for about 15 minutes until starting brown on bottom. Turn them over and cook them for about another 15 minutes until brown on top.
  2. Bring a pan of water to the boil. Tip in the rice and turn the heat down to simmer. Leave for about 20 minutes, until the rice has absorbed all of the water (stir in occasionally to encourage it). Once the water has gone, take off the heat.
  3. Bring another large pan/lots of smaller pans of water to the boil for the vegetables: cut the broccoli into florets, take the tough outer skin off with a sharp knife and cut the stalk into strips. Put into a pan of boiled water and turn down to a simmer. Cook for about 8-10 minutes or until tender. Cut up the cauliflower into florets and cook it like the broccoli. Place the stripped kale into a pan of boiled water and turn it down to a simmer, leaving it to cook for about five minutes. Cut the courgettes into small circles and put in a pan of boiled water, turning it down to simmer, for about 8 minutes. Peel the carrots and cut them into circles and put in a pan of boiling water, turning it down to simmer, for about 10-12 minutes. Cook the peas in boiled water for about 2 minutes.
  4. Once the variation of vegetables are done, drain them all.
  5. Serve the sausages with the rice and assorted vegetables and any optional additions desired.

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Glamorgan Sausage  with rice, boiled broccoli, courgettes, cauliflower and peas