Broccoli has a reputation as a polarising vegetables!
Lauded by some as the glorious green. And equally victimised as green garbage by sour-faced children or the more picky of us adults (who never shed our childhood preconceptions).
For those in the latter camp, it should be noted that, historically, broccoli was held in high esteem by the Roman empire dating back to 1st/2nd century AD. Anything good enough for Emperor Augustus to consume must be worth eating.
Broccoli is an Italian word derived from the Latin brachium, meaning arm or branch (which makes sense I guess). There are two main types of broccoli: the Calabrese, common in New Zealand, which produces a large green central head with smaller side-shoots; and the Sprouting Broccoli, which grows a succession of small flowerheads over a long season, that can be green, white or even purple in colour.
Broccoli are adaptable to all New Zealand climates, and in temperate/warmer climates like Hawke’s Bay, broccoli seeds are best planted in late summer/early autumn. I suggest initially planting the seeds in individual punnets then transplanting seedlings to the main garden bed once 8-10cm in height. Alternatively, broccoli seeds can be sown directly into the main bed, then thinned once seedlings emerge. Here are my other growing tips for successful broccoli:
- On average, it takes 6-10 days for seedlings to emerge and 3-4 months from seed to harvest;
- Space plants 50cm apart in a warm, sunny position in deep, moisture-retentive but free-draining soil;
- Feed initially with organic matter then liquid fertiliser every 2-3 weeks;
- Harvest the central head while still firm and the buds are tight – new side shoots with smaller heads will then develop after 2-3 weeks and can be picked regularly;
- White butterfly love to eat your broccoli – control using Derris Dust, a natural insecticide, lightly dusting the plant once a week while insects are present;
- Use natural pyrethrum once a week to control grey aphids;
- If companion planting (highly recommended), grow alongside rosemary, thyme, and sage.
When purchasing broccoli from your local vegetable supplier (shoutout to Vege Land on Meeanee Road, Napier), always go for a tighter head as this means it has been picked recently and will have maximum taste. Broccoli is an excellent source of folate, which is an essential vitamin (meaning humans must source it from their diet) required for DNA synthesis and cell division. It is also high in Vitamin A, C, calcium, fibre, and iron.
I believe that broccoli is best eaten blanched or quickly stir-fried, as minimising the cooking time allows it to maintain some of its tender crunch and ensures it retains its flavour. As winter sets in, broccoli is also an excellent base for a warming bowl of soupy goodness. Here’s a recipe perfect for those chilly nights.
Leek & Broccoli Chowder with crunchy chickpeas & green oil
Ingredients (serves 4-6)
Leek & Broccoli Chowder:
- 2 Tbsp oil
- 1 large leek, leaves trimmed, sliced into 1cm rounds
- 2 cups (500ml) vegetable stock
- 2 Tbsp flour
- 2 cups (500ml) boiling water
- 1 kg potatoes, peeled and chopped into 2cm chunks
- 1 broccoli, chopped into florets
- 6 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
- 1 cup (250ml) milk (cow’s/almond)
- 1 tsp dried dill (or 1 Tbsp fresh dill, chopped)
- 2 tsp sea salt
- 1 tsp cracked black pepper
- 400g can chickpeas, drained and dried with a paper towel
- 1 tsp sumac
- ½ tsp ground chilli
- 1 Tbsp oil
- ½ tsp sea salt (+ extra to taste)
- seeds of 10 green cardamom pods
- ½ tsp black peppercorns
- 2 green chillies/jalapeños, finely chopped
- 100ml olive oil
- ¼ tsp sea salt
- First make your crunchy chickpeas. Preheat the oven to 220°C (200°C fan-forced).
- Place the chickpeas in a single layer on a baking paper-lined oven tray and bake in the pre-heated oven for 20 minutes. Remove the chickpeas from the oven and transfer to a bowl. Coat the chickpeas in the sumac, chilli, oil and ½ tsp salt. Return to the oven and roast for a further 20 minutes or until crunchy (ensure you do not burn, there’s a fine line between crunchy and burnt). Remove from the oven, transfer to a bowl and season with sea salt to taste.
- For the leek & broccoli chowder, in a large heavy-based saucepan over medium heat, sauté the sliced leeks with the oil for 7 minutes until starting to soften.
- While the leeks are cooking, place the vegetable stock in a separate saucepan over high heat. Once just starting to bubble, reduce the heat to low to keep the stock warm.
- Sprinkle the flour over the softened leeks and stir through until combined. Add the warm vegetable stock, boiling water, chopped potatoes, broccoli, and garlic. Increase the heat to high, bring to the boil then reduce the heat to medium and simmer 20-25 minutes, stirring occasionally until the potatoes are cooked through (a knife should go through each potato with ease).
- Stir through the milk and dill and simmer for a further 3 minutes. Using a stick blender (or similar), blitz the chowder until relatively smooth (I like to leave the occasional small chunk of potato to give it added texture). Add the sea salt and black pepper and adjust seasoning to taste.
- To make the green oil, bash the cardamom seeds and peppercorns in a pestle and mortar until roughly crushed. Place the crushed seeds/peppercorns in a small pot with the chilli, oil, and sea salt. Heat the oil over low heat for 4 minutes, infusing at a low bubble (be careful not to have your oil too hot as the chillies/seeds will burn!). Remove from the heat and cool to room temperature.
Serve your chowder hot, topped with the green oil and crunchy chickpeas.
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