It is still cold up here by the wilds of the North Sea, and despite some early promise of a warm March, it is proving to be anything but. The hats, scarves and mittens are still in full use and central heating is a must on an evening.
The only thing that is giving us any indication that spring may be just around the corner in this bleakest of natural food months is one of my favourite vegetables - purple spouting broccoli. No matter how harsh the weather, this delicious sweet relation of the cauliflower rears its wonderful head in March and begs you to do nothing more than steam it, toss it in a little butter and devour it.
When the first purple sprouting broccoli is available, it is ritual for me to steam a bunch and eat a large pile of it with some form of mustardy anchovy dressing. You can feel yourself getting healthier by the bite, it is that good for you. But the taste is one unique to this special vegetable; sweet and delicate, almost like the first asparagus but arguably better.
I've devised a tart to help celebrate the arrival of the purple sprouting broccoli. You may say it is a quiche, but with the addition of some Northumbrian Cheese Company Redesdale sheep's cheese and a little English mustard, it turns that French mainstay of the 1970s into a thoroughly English thing. If you can't get your hands on some tangy sheep's cheese, experiment and try just about any. A good Cheddar will always be good.
Purple Sprouting Broccoli and Sheep's Cheese Tart
250g shortcrust pastry, either homemade or shop bought
200g purple sprouting broccoli
6 large free range eggs
2 large free range egg yolks
250ml natural yoghurt
200g sheep's cheese, or similar, grated
1 tbsp English mustard
Salt and pepper
1 - Preheat oven to 180 degrees C, GM4.
2 - On a floured surface, roll out the pastry. Butter an 8 inch quiche or pie dish and line with the rolled out pastry, leaving the excess hanging over the sides. Prick with a fork, line with baking paper and baking beans or rice, and blind bake for 15 minutes on the middle shelf.
3 - Remove the paper and beans, return to the oven and bake for a further five minutes. Remove then trim the excess pastry.
4 - Bring a pan of water to the boil then blanch the broccoli for 2 minutes. Drain and refresh under cold water. Drain thoroughly.
5 - In a large bowl, mix together the eggs, yoghurt, cheese and mustard, reserving a handful of cheese. Season with a little salt and plenty of black pepper.
6 - Put the broccoli into the cooked pastry case then pour over the egg, cheese and yoghurt mixture. Sprinkle over the remainder of the cheese.
7 - Bake on the middle shelf for 30-40 minutes, until the mixture has cooked and risen and the top is golden brown. Serve hot or cold.