The Circus Gardener's Kitchen

seasonal vegetarian recipes with a side helping of food politics

chargrilled broccoli and spaghetti with lemon and basil pesto

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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.

purple sprouting broccoli growingpurple sprouting broccolibasil growinglemon zest

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 quick, simple but delicious dish the broccoli is lightly charred to give it a smoky edge. This works beautifully alongside the sharp lemon and basil sauce.

I like to think this dish conveys a gentle hint of the milder days of spring that are yet to come. I am, of course, also 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
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
200 g good quality organic spaghetti

for the lemon and basil pesto
1 cloves garlic, chopped
10 g pine nuts
20 g fresh basil, roughly chopped
zest and juice of 1 lemon
40 ml extra virgin olive oil

to serve (optional)

vegetarian or vegan Parmesan shavings


1. Place the pine nuts, olive oil, basil, lemon juice and zest in a pestle and mortar or blender and process to a paste.

2. Steam the broccoli for 2-3 minutes, until beginning to turn tender but still slightly resistant when pierced with a knife. Drain and set to one side.

3. Cook the spaghetti in boiling water, according to the instructions. While it is cooking, heat a cast iron griddle pan or conventional frying pan over a high heat. Brush the broccoli pieces lightly all over with olive oil and place in the pan. Cook for 2 minutes without moving the broccoli pieces, by which time they should have developed a light charring. Carefully flip over and cook for another 2 minutes. Remove the charred broccoli 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 to combine. Place a large twist of the spaghetti onto individual plates. Top with the roasted broccoli and the Parmesan shavings, if using.

Categories: vegetarian

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6 replies

  1. Love the look of this dish Steve. We have some purple sprouting in the garden at the moment too and haven’t ever tried chargrilling it. The storms have knocked down a good chunk of a lovely old oak tree that my daughter’s swing hangs on in our garden, and even up our hill it feels as if there’s a moat around us – but obviously feeling very lucky that we aren’t suffering as badly from the flooding as so many are. Hope the water keeps away from your door.

  2. Hi Andrea

    Thanks for your kind comments on the recipe.

    What a shame about your old oak tree. Like you we’re fairly high up, so although the river is now a lot closer to our house than we’d like it to be I’m confident we’ll stay dry, but it’s very frustrating not being able to get some decent time on the allotment


  3. What a nice recipe. A great foil for grilled asparagus or courgettes too!

  4. Thanks, and yes I agree it would work really well with asparagus or courgette.

  5. This looks great! I love all of these flavors, too. (I always add lots of fresh lemon to my pesto! …and I like lemony roasted broccoli, but I don’t think I’ve ever put two & two together like this.) 🙂

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