For those of us who crave garden-fresh greenery, this broccoli is a hero, by a long way the first fresh green food to show after the long winter. From as early as February, it sprouts thin, green shoots with purple flower heads, from gangly bushes. Stems, heads, leaves, all edible, with an intense, alive, slightly peppery flavour, it needs only the briefest, simplest cooking. Steamed bundles are great with rich food or in a salad, it’s brilliant with pasta and oil, and has more than enough character to take on chilli, soya sauce, sesame oil and the like in a stir fry. Within four to six weeks, it’s all over as the flowers begin to seed, but by then it’s all optimism in the vegetable world - everything’s beginning to show and make fine promises: asparagus, spinach, spring cabbage, the beans and peas. It rarely appears in shops, so grow it or make friends with someone who does. This recipe is one I use at Paradiso to dress it up as a starter for dinner. Think of it as a warm salad and it would make a fine lunch too. The cheese is completely up to you. I would use shavings of a hard sheep’s cheese like Orla or Italian pecorino, or shavings of parmesan, or crumblings of a soft sheep’s cheese, like Knockalara.
BOIL AND SLICE THE POTATOES. Trim any thick stems off the broccoli. Heat a little olive oil in a pan and toss in the broccoli and onion together. Cook over a fairly high heap stirring all the time and occasionally splashing in a little water, for about two minutes. Now toss in the potato and cook for a few seconds to warm it a little, before tipping the lot into a bowl. Dilute the tapenade to double its volume with olive oil, stir it into the vegetables and share it out between four plates. Sprinkle some cheese shavings or crumblings over the top, or not, as you choose.
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