As I sit here writing this post I can see, just a few hundred metres away from my house, the lapping edge of the swollen river Severn. Normally the river is about half a mile away but the seemingly incessant rain of the past couple of months has caused major flooding in my adopted city, Worcester.
Across the UK, the floods are not only damaging property but also threatening cropland and destroying existing crops.
Even without the food losses that we may face this year through the vagaries of the weather we already waste a huge amount of food across the developed world, in fact around a third of all the food that we grow. That’s enough to feed the one billion malnourished people on the planet several items over.
Some of the food we waste reflects the fact that we tend to buy too much, cook too great a quantity, to leave food until it is past its use-by date and so on. All of these transgressions would seem to indicate that that we we don’t truly value the food we buy.
But it isn’t all our fault.
A large proportion of fruit and vegetable waste is food that does not even reach our shopping baskets, let alone our kitchens. This is the food which is discarded simply because it does not meet the rigorous supermarket standards of uniformity of size, shape and colour. Everywhere you look, it seems supermarkets believe that blandness and homogeneity are what we consumers prize most when it comes to our fruit and vegetables. Is that really true?
If supermarkets lowered these stringent cosmetic standards and accepted and sold perfectly healthy fruit and vegetables that just happen to be irregularly shaped (and more importantly if we consumers bought them), then it would have a dramatic effect not only on the level of food waste in the world but also on the price of our food.
The cost of meeting the cosmetic standards of the supermarkets means that farmers, when agreeing a price for their produce, have to factor in a percentage loss for “ugly” but otherwise healthy fruit and vegetables that will not pass the supermarkets’ cosmetic standards.
Non-standard fruit and vegetables are, of course, a way of life to the home grower, and I know one thing for certain: although my potatoes sometimes come in funny shapes and I occasionally dig up the odd gnarled carrot they taste a million times better than anything on offer in the uniform, bland produce section of our supermarkets.
I think it’s time we moved on to a recipe.
There are a few vegetables growing on my allotment plot, the Circus Garden, that are tough enough to survive pretty much anything the British winter throws at them, and of these hardy vegetables many are members of the brassica family.
One such vegetable is sprouting broccoli, a close, wispy relative of calabrese, the less hardy vegetable usually sold in supermarkets as “broccoli”.
In this dish I have chargrilled the broccoli, which gives it pleasant, smokey edge. It works beautifully alongside lemon and basil in this simple recipe which I like to think conveys a gentle hint of the milder days of spring that are yet to come. I am, of course, assuming that one day, eventually, it will simply have to stop raining.
chargrilled broccoli with spaghetti and lemon and basil pesto
250 g purple sprouting broccoli
100 ml extra virgin olive oil, plus extra for chargrilling
2 cloves garlic, chopped
10 g pine nuts
25 g vegetarian Parmesan, plus extra for serving
3 tbp fresh basil, chopped
Zest and juice of 1 lemon plus juice of additional 1/2 lemon
200 g good quality organic spaghetti
1. Place the pine nuts, olive oil, basil, pine nuts, lemon juice and zest and Parmesan in a blender and process to a smooth paste.
2. Steam the broccoli for 3 minutes, until beginning to turn tender but still slightly resistant when pierced with a knife. Drain and immediately cool in a bowl of iced water. Drain again and set to one side.
3. Cook the tagliatelle in boiling water, according to the instructions. While it is cooking, heat a cast iron griddle pan over a high heat. Brush the broccoli pieces lightly all over with olive oil and place on the hot griddle pan. Cook for 2 minutes per side without moving the broccoli pieces, by which time they should have developed dark “chargrill” bars. Remove and rest briefly on kitchen paper.
4. Drain the cooked spaghetti then place it in a large bowl and stir in the lemon basil pesto and stir to combine. Place a large twist of the spaghetti into individual bowls or plates. Top with the roasted broccoli, sprinkle it with the juice of the half a lemon. If you wish, serve with grated or shaved vegetarian Parmesan.