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Bring me my spear

Not quite burning gold but purple sprouting broccoli is edible treasure for Jonny Nicholson, Chef – Proprietor of The Sail Loft in Southwold

Early spring is far from a purple patch for chefs and gardeners; the brassicas are mostly over, the root vegetables might store well but quite frankly we’re getting bored; the game season long since finished, mussels are off the menu but lobster and crab really aren’t about much yet and asparagus is still a good few weeks away; but all is not lost, there is one glorious vegetable to savour.

Late march into mid-April is when purple sprouting broccoli comes into its own. It is sign of spring’s first shoots and for us foodies, a truly delicious way to lighten up our fare as chilly winter wakes up to sun-kissed spring again – stews and casseroles now on the back burner as we start to warm up, hearty soups no longer requisite central heating at lunchtimes and crumbles sidelined in favour of something sweet and light.

This really is a precious seasonal bounty, we have these tender, succulent, vividly purple-green stems, so what to do with them? My first port-of-call if they are in short supply is to celebrate them in all their glory, as you would the first asparagus tips of May (or the second week of April as it was last year around here); waste no time in messing, quickly whip up a contrasting rich creamy egg sauce or buy a good quality pre-made version, perhaps sharp lemony hollandaise or herby béarnaise, put the spears onto simmer and then dip your al dente delights into all that velvety yellowness.

Sprouting broccoli of either colour is delicious, it comes in white or purple types, not sure why we favour the darker-hued variety more… Answers on a postcard not required.

So what to do with an excess of the shoots, if you are so lucky to be drowning in this culinary gold? I tend to still want to shout about it, serving it up as one of three boiled veggies with the Sunday roast does little for its merits and quite frankly it is a waste. Better to highlight it in a lovely starter or light lunch, or if looking for inspiration to jazz up your midweek supper, try it with alongside a good pasta carbonara or a lovely salt beef potato hash. For your dining delight this month, a simple smoky fish risotto, making best use of several of my favourite ingredients, not just fab sprouting broccoli.

Enjoy! Jonny

Jonny Nicholson, Chef – Proprietor, The Bell At Sax’


The Sail Loft, Ferry Road, Southwold IP18 6HQ
Our beachside café-bar-restaurant, proudly using local, seasonal, Suffolk ingredients – find us by Southwold’s dunes near the campsite and lifeboat station. Book for our daily specials: Monday Madness – two courses for £10; Curry-tastic Tuesday; Wednesday Burger Bonanza; Friday Steak Night
W: www.sailloftsouthwold.uk   T: 01502 725713


Leek and smoked haddock risotto with streaky-wrapped sprouting broccoli

There are alternative oven-baked risotto recipes with smoked haddock online, worth considering if you don’t have the time to stand and stir. This delicious dish is further improved with a poached egg on top.

(serves 4)

8 good spears of sprouting broccoli, trimmed

8 wide rashers of streaky bacon

Good rapeseed oil

Unsalted butter

4 good portions of undyed locally-smoked haddock

Full fat milk

1 litre good chicken stock

1 long shallot, peeled and finely chopped

1 garlic clove, peeled and finely chopped

300g risotto rice such as arborio

100ml dry vermouth or white wine

1 medium leek, very thinly sliced

Two handfuls of washed spinach, baby leaf is best

Parmesan, grated and shavings

Pre-heat your oven to its hottest setting. Simmer the broccoli in salted water for 2 minutes to start to cook it. Allow to cool a little and weap the stems with the bacon. Lay on to a lightly-oiled baking sheet and bake until lightly browning while you cook the fish and start the risotto.

In a snug pan, cover the fish with milk and bring to a simmer before turning off. Leave to cook through while you make  the risotto.

Bring the stock to a simmer. Gently fry the shallot and garlic in a little melted butter and oil until softened and season lightly. Stir through the rice and cook over a medium heat. As it dries up, add the vermouth and stir continually. Once absorbed, add a ladle of stock and turn heat down to low. Keep stirring the risotto and slowly adding stock as it absorbs over 15 – 18 minutes; halfway through, folding in the leek to soften.

Near the end of cooking, mix through the spinach and a good grating of parmesan, then check the seasoning.

Serve the risotto topped with the drained smoked haddock and the broccoli spears, finishing with parmesan shavings.