The story of British Tenderstem broccoli

I’ve followed the family farming footsteps all my life. I have worked both here on our farm as a young boy and man and also in Camarillo in California, where I went to learn some techniques from the Americans before settling back down to life at the family home. Eventually I took on the role of managing director of the family farm.

I’ve always been interested in expanding our crop offering and trialling new types of produce and saw the opportunity for growing British Tenderstem® broccoli when I noticed back in 2004 that the only Tenderstem® breed of broccoli available in the UK market were being flown in from abroad.  I proposed to Marks and Spencer, our main customer, that we could help them offer their customers British broccoli when the seasons allow, as we could grow it right here on our farm in Kent. They loved the idea, and, as they say, the rest is history.

We started growing British Tenderstem® broccoli in 2005 over 8 acres. This has now increased to a much larger scale of 24 acres, 30% of which is organic.  Last year we produced 36 000kg of broccoli and this year we estimate the figure will be over 60 000kg.

Learning to grow Tenderstem® was a real challenge but one that we really relished, as it gave us the opportunity to develop a crop in Kent that has traditionally been sourced from Africa. In fact it’s traditionally quite an international vegetable through and through as its origins are from Japan, where it was developed using classical plant breeding techniques. The idea was to breed a more flavoursome brassica by crossing traditional broccoli and Chinese Kale. As a result, Tenderstem® has a mild, distinctive flavour, a texture more akin to asparagus.  What’s more, as the name suggests, the Tenderstem® variety is tender from floret to stem so the whole vegetable can be eaten, unlike ordinary broccoli, which tends to have a thicker, more fibrous stem.

Growing Tenderstem® is a complicated process, as it’s a high management crop that can be testing for growers due to its rapid maturity and high labour input.  In order to manage the broccoli harvest we have to take on an additional 18 staff each year. However, seeing the ‘fruits’ of our labours at the start of the harvest is a truly rewarding experience. There’s nothing quite like walking through the pack house seeing a great product fresh from the fields being packed to perfection, and then ultimately seeing it on the shelves of Marks and Spencer, who we supply exclusively.

The British Tenderstem® broccoli season runs from June through to November and it’s not just our farm that has taken on the challenge of growing this relatively new breed of broccoli on British soil. Thanks to the efforts of farmers across the country – in Herefordshire, Worcester, Lincolnshire, Nottinghamshire, Jersey and Eire, British Tenderstem® is now available in supermarkets throughout the UK.

My favourite way to enjoy the fruits of my labour is to cook the broccoli very gently and eat them with butter. It’s so tender it requires almost no cooking, so it’s a great choice for health conscious and busy consumers looking for a quick and easy vegetable that tastes delicious and is one of your “five a day”.

We have created a few simple recipes to inspire you:

Summer Salad of Grilled British Tenderstem® broccoli, Peaches & Goats’ Cheese

This simple salad is bursting with freshness and flavour. When it’s hot outside try using a barbeque instead of a griddle for a perfect alfresco dish.

Serves 4

Preparation time: 10 minutes

Cooking time: 10 minutes

You’ll need:

200g British Tenderstem® broccoli, stems cut in half

3 ripe peaches, stone removed and cut in quarters

1 tbsp olive oil

100g baby spinach leaves

150g goats cheese log (we used Kidderton Ash), cut into 1cm slices

Small bunch fresh basil, leaves picked and torn

Freshly ground black pepper and sea salt

For the dressing:

4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

2 tbsp good quality balsamic vinegar

To serve:

Crusty ciabatta, cut into slices

What to do:

  1. Pre heat a griddle pan until smoking hot – this will take about 10 minutes.
  2. In a medium bowl, toss the broccoli and peach quarters in the olive oil and season with a little freshly ground black pepper and sea salt.
  3. Cook the broccoli and peaches on the hot griddle for about 5 minutes, turning a few times, until they are just tender and marked with griddle-lines.
  4. Arrange the spinach leaves on a serving platter, top with the cooked broccoli and peaches and add the goats cheese slices.
  5. Sprinkle with the torn basil leaves and dress with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Serve immediately with plenty of crusty ciabatta to soak up the delicious juices.

British Tenderstem® broccoli, Beetroot & Toasted Seed Salad with Lemon Dressing

This tasty salad is a great option for a crunchy, colourful and healthy lunch.

Serves 4

Preparation time: 5 minutes

Cooking time: 5 minutes

You’ll need:

200g British Tenderstem® broccoli, stems cut in half

80g mixed seeds (e.g. sunflower, pumpkin, sesame)

1 tbsp dark soy sauce

250g cooked beetroot, cut into wedges

Small bunch fresh chives, snipped

For lemon dressing:

2 tbsp cold pressed rapeseed oil (we used Hill Farm Oil)

Juice ½-1 lemon, to taste

Freshly ground black pepper & sea salt, to taste

What to do:

  1. Make the dressing by whisking together the rapeseed oil and lemon juice to taste. Season with freshly ground black pepper and sea salt. Set aside.
  2. Steam or boil the broccoli for 3 to 4 minutes until just tender but with a little bite.
  3. While the broccoli is cooking toast the seeds by tipping them into a small frying pan. Add the soy sauce and cook over a medium heat, tossing regularly to coat all over, for about 3 minutes until the seeds are crisp and golden. Take care not to burn them or they will taste bitter.
  4. Arrange the cooked broccoli and beetroot wedges on a plate, drizzle over the dressing and sprinkle over the toasted seeds and chives. Serve immediately.

Katie Caldesi’s Pasta with Tenderstem® broccoli, Roasted Vegetables and Toasted Almonds

A lovely light pasta dish for the summer months with lots of simple fresh flavour

Serves 4 adults

Preparation time: 15 minutes

Cooking time: 25 minutes

You’ll need:

½ large aubergine, cut into bite-size sticks

1 red pepper, cut into bite-size sticks

1 courgette, cut into bite-size sticks

1 medium red onion, cut in half, then each half cut into 6 segments

4 garlic cloves, unpeeled, crushed lightly

Half a red chilli, finely sliced (optional)

Salt and freshly ground pepper

3 sprigs of thyme

6 tbsp extra virgin olive oil, plus extra for drizzling at the end

1 packet of British Tenderstem® broccoli (about 200g), larger stems cut in half lengthways

300g dried pasta shapes – we used gigli

50g flaked almonds

25g grated Parmesan cheese

What to do:

  1. Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/gas mark 4 and put on a large saucepan of salted water to boil.
  2. Put the prepared vegetables (except the broccoli), garlic and chilli on a baking tray. Scatter with salt, pepper and thyme and pour over the olive oil. Using your hands, toss the vegetables so they are well coated in the oil. (The oil prevents the vegetables burning but also is used in the sauce later so don’t be mean with it.) Tuck the thyme under the vegetables to stop it burning and put the tray in the oven and bake for 20 minutes.
  3. Halfway through cooking, add the broccoli and toss to combine with the other vegetables and olive oil. Return to the oven.
  4. At this point bring a large pan of water to the boil and cook the pasta according to the packet instructions until al dente.
  5. Meanwhile, toast the almonds on a tray in the oven for about 5 minutes, checking regularly.
  6. When the pasta is cooked, drain it and then combine it with the vegetables and any remaining oil from the tray and the almonds in a warm serving bowl.
  7. Drizzle with more olive oil according to taste and serve topped with Parmesan.

Jo Pratt’s British Tenderstem® broccoli, Ricotta and Cherry Tomato Fingers

These tasty puff pastry fingers are easy to prepare and wonderfully versatile.

Makes 14

Preparation time: 10 minutes

Cooking time: 10-15 minutes

You’ll need:

375g ready-rolled puff pastry

250g ricotta cheese

2 large eggs, lightly beaten

50g Parmesan cheese, grated

1 clove of garlic, crushed

Salt and pepper, for seasoning

200g British Tenderstem® broccoli tips

14 cherry tomatoes, halved

Oil for greasing

What to do:

  1. Preheat the oven to 200ºC/fan 180ºC/gas 6.
  2. Unroll the pastry from the packet, and cut into 14-16 rectangles. Place the pastry pieces on to a lightly oiled baking tray and prick each one a couple of times with a fork.
  3. Mix together the ricotta, eggs, roughly two thirds of the parmesan, garlic and season with salt and pepper. Once smooth, spoon onto the pastry pieces and spread lightly with the back of the spoon, leaving a small border of pastry around the edge.
  4. Arrange a piece of broccoli and two tomato halves per pastry piece on top of the ricotta mixture and press down gently. Scatter over the remaining parmesan.
  5. Place in the oven and bake for 10-15 minutes until the filling has set and is becoming golden.
  6. Remove from the oven and serve hot, warm or at room temperature.
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