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High time for Brassicas

It’s been a tough year for UK brassica growers. With the long, hot, dry summer many crops were stunted. Right now is the perfect time to get involved with brassicas, not only because they’re bang on trend, but the zeitgeist is leaning on veg forward diets and brassicas offer the perfect wholesome alternative to meat.

We’ve talked before about how the cauliflower has been treated in much the same way as a joint of meat. Being smothered in herbs and spices before being slow roasted whole. Many chefs have also had great success carving thick cut steaks from a large cauli, pan frying it at a low slow heat, developing that unctuous, crispy charred crust and a succulent tender, texture within. Beyond the classic cauliflower cheese, this robust, white brassica takes on garam masala in a wonderful way and whether slow roasted and tossed in a naan wrap with mango chutney and raita, or left to simmer in a complex curry, it’s arguably the most versatile of brassicas and worthy of some serious attention this month.

Resigned to a life of over-boiling, the broccoli is another brassica that has much more versatility than it gets credit for. Small florets love to be tossed in sesame oil and stir fried, but they also take the salty depth of anchovy and carry the prickly heat from chillis to deliver a combination that is more than just the sum of its parts. For a slightly juicier, spring garden flavour, tenderstem broccoli will provide you with an asparagus-like freshness that’s highly rewarding when brushed with good oil and griddled.

The thick rugged leaves of kale and cavolo nero can be a touch tough when merely boiled and served (what is it with us Brits and boiling the life out of brassicas?). Sliced fine before being wilted with butter, salt, fresh grated garlic, it makes for a hearty alternative to avocado on top of your sourdough toast, to be anointed with a poached egg and some small cubes of roast butternut squash.

Kale also has a recent trendy history with being used as a crisp alternative. While this might not satisfy in quite the same way as a potato crisp, it does empower the kitchen with flavourful, crisp textured shards to use in broader dishes – they also go down well with a chilled glass of white.

And you should ignore chicory at your peril. Endive, radicchio, and chicory offer bitter flavours that have traditionally been overlooked in the UK. It stiffens up soft salads, and creates a bridging flavour for toasted nuts and sharp blue cheeses. The classic chicory, apple and walnut salad is the perfect way to see it in action, but throw it into a winter veg gratin and see it truly excel.

So while it’s been a tough old year for brassica growers, there’s no denying the potential they hold right now. A versatile food group that plays right into the hands of the current climate of ‘less meat, more veg’. If you’re looking for inspiration, or to flex your seasonal produce prowess, then give some time to the brassicas, you’ll be rewarded in spades.