Get the idea: Beautiful brassicas
Brassica is the name of the family to which cabbages, broccoli, broccolini, cauliflower, broccoflower, brussels sprouts, curly kale and the many Asian greens (bok choy, tatsoi, choy sum, gailan, Chinese cabbage, mizuna) belong. They are eaten for their leaves in the case of cabbages and Asian greens, their flowering stems in the case of vegetables like broccoli and cauliflower, or their swollen roots in the case of kohlrabi, radishes and turnips.
A quick read of Harold McGee’s On Food and Cooking told me that wild cabbage, from which our modern forms all derive, comes from the wild cabbage of the Mediterranean and was domesticated two and half thousand years ago.
Cabbage is a plant whose leaves have formed a ‘head” (the word cabbage comes from the Latin word “caput” which means head) around the stumpy stalk; brussels sprouts are a variety of cabbage developed in 15th century Europe to have a long stalk with many small “heads”.
Kale and cavalo nero have separate leaves on a short stalk and cauliflower is a stalk with a large “flower” (caulis is the latin word for stem or stalk). It is interesting that brassicas come in a variety of colours from bright green to vivid deep purple.
There is usually more than one variety of these vegetables available all year round. Unlike onions, which when cooked for a long time become sweet and mild in flavour, overcooked brassicas can become unpleasantly sulphurous which is why they are often disliked.
The smell of overcooked cabbage is an oft used signifier for poverty, bad cooking and a depressing atmosphere. These vegetables have had a bad press, but then overboiled anything is unpleasant. However, good food is always about how well things are cooked, and delicious brassica dishes are easy to produce.
In the case of broccoli and cauliflower, use the peeled thinly sliced stalks as well as they are delicious and good cooks don’t waste food. Cook kale and cavalo nero for at least 20 minutes until soft. Italian chef Giorgio Locatelli says to cook cavalo nero for 45 minutes or until very soft and black (which is why itis called “nero”, which is Italian for black). In Tuscany they eat cavalo nero on grilled, garlic-rubbed bread as a bruschetta. Undercooked kale and cavalo nero just taste and feel like blanched newspaper to me. Roasting curly kale (see below) takes less time and it can be eaten like potato chips.
Heat a wok over high heat with a little vegetable oil and add very thinly sliced chilli, ginger and garlic, thinly sliced rehydrated dried Chinese mushrooms (stalks removed) and plenty of free-range pork mince. Stir-fry until the pork begins to brown then add a dollop of Chinese oyster sauce. Mix well and serve over any combo of Chinese brassica leaves like baby bok choy, choy sum, gai lan and Chinese cabbage, (slice any thick stalks into small pieces) that have been steamed until still crisp but cooked. Steamed rice, soy sauce and chilli bean sauce on the side.
Cut the stalk ends off brussels sprouts and slice each about ½ cm thick. Cut a head of broccoli into small florets and peel and thinly slice the stalk. Slow-fry in a large frying pan with extra virgin olive oil, lots of garlic, finely chopped onion and diced chemical-free bacon until the sprouts are just tender and the onion soft. Taste and season. Cool and add this to lots of beaten eggs, pour into a clean frying pan with a little more extra virgin olive oil, sprinkle the top with grated cheese and place in a 200C oven for about 30 minutes or until set and puffed up. Serve this frittata in wedges anytime, cold or hot.
Make a slaw of plenty of thinly sliced red and savoy cabbage with grated carrots, very thinly sliced fennel, lots of chopped parsley, lemon zest and capers and dress with a mix of plain unsweetened yoghurt, a little bought mayo and a couple of tablespoons of bought horseradish. Serve with grilled or roasted thick pork cutlets and creamy mashed agria potatoes.
Colcannon is one of Ireland’s gifts to the world. Make a mash of agria potatoes with plenty of butter and a little cream. Add to this thinly sliced spring onions and hot, thinly sliced cabbage or curly kale that has been steamed or boiled until tender but still slightly crisp (the kale will take about 20 minutes). Simple ingredients — superb flavour. Serve with slices of crisp chemical-free bacon.
Rip the leaves off the stalks of curly kale. Discard the stalks and rip the leaves into bite-sized pieces. Place on a large, baking paper-lined, shallow oven tray. Drizzle with a little extra virgin olive oil and season with salt. Spread the kale out into an even layer and place in a 200C oven for about 10 minutes or until the kale is crisp and browned. Meanwhile boil green beans in salted water for 3 minutes and drain well. Place the beans in a large salad bowl with 4cm squares of halloumi that have been browned in extra virgin olive oil in a hot frying pan, chopped roasted almonds, thinly sliced semi-dried tomatoes, pitted kalamata olives and a dressing of red wine vinegar and extra virgin olive oil. Add the roasted kale at the last minute so it stays crisp.
Make a large well-seasoned omelette containing plenty of thinly sliced chilli, sliced cooked prawns, chopped coriander and finely chopped garlic. Tip it out of the pan on to a large board, let it cool then slice thinly. Serve the sliced omelette over lots of steamed baby bok choy that has been quartered lengthways. Hot egg noodles tossed with a little sesame oil to accompany and sriracha chilli sauce on the side.
Everyone likes cauliflower cheese, but give it lots of flavour. Fry finely chopped onion, finely diced carrot, thinly sliced celery, finely chopped garlic, lemon zest, diced ham, bacon or pancetta in butter without browning for about 10 minutes or until the onion is soft. Add a splash of white wine and let it bubble and evaporate completely then add full cream milk to cover about 3cm above the vegetable mix. Bring to the boil, add grated parmesan to taste and thicken lightly with a slurry of cornflour mixed with cold water. Taste and season. Boil cauliflower florets and the thinly sliced peeled stalk in salted water for 3 minutes, drain well and spread out in a shallow ovenproof dish. Pour the vegetable and sauce mix evenly on top then sprinkle well with grated gruyere (or tasty) cheese and breadcrumbs. Place in a 200C oven until bubbling and well browned. Winter comfort food!
Cut the stalk ends off brussels sprouts and slice thinly. Trim the stalk ends off sweet-stem broccoli and slice the stalks in half. Pan-fry in extra virgin olive oil with garlic, the finely diced peel of a preserved lemon and a big sprig of fresh thyme until the vegetables are tender and browned. Add a small handful of roasted pine nuts, mix well, taste and season. Serve with fried fish fillets and a dollop of plain unsweetened yoghurt.
Heat a frying pan with a little extra virgin olive oil over moderate heat and add finely chopped onion, garlic, plenty of sliced peeled apples and a large pinch of fennel seeds. Fry gently without browning for 10 minutes or until the onion is soft. Add lots of thinly sliced red cabbage and a splash of white wine. Stir-fry for about 5 minutes or until the cabbage is cooked but slightly crisp. Add a spoonful of brown sugar and a big splash of balsamic vinegar, mix well and boil gently until slightly sticky. Serve this sweet and sour cabbage and apples on boiled French lentils with your favourite barbecued or fried sausages or black pudding.
Simmer cauliflower florets and the thinly sliced peeled stalk in chicken or vegetable stock with 1 tsp each of ground cumin and turmeric until the cauliflower is very soft. Puree with a big knob of butter and a handful of coriander. Serve with plenty of crumbled creamy cow’s feta, crisp olive oil-fried breadcrumbs and more chopped coriander.