For us cool climate inhabitants, spring can seem like a flash in the pan. Fifteen degrees and a garden full of ready-to-pick brassicas one day, then thirty five degrees and nothing but a bed of bee forage left the next. This year our vegetable patch was literally sprouting in abundance. Having sown, in both February and May, a robust platoon of green and purple varieties, we had a steady supply of this showy member of the brassica oleracea (var. italica) group to fill the family’s forage basket for many a winter and early spring week.
My first encounter with sprouting came in my Oxford years, when volunteering at the local farmers markets had become a regular part of my Saturday morning routine. Each week, following those heavy-with-snow winter periods, farmers would make their early morning trek into town to lay out their harvest for city dwelling customers to buy. Keen to venture outside my brassica consuming comfort zone, I quickly found ways to prepare and consume this broccolini like vegetable, including a Growers Society – a school based gardening club – favourite, Sprouting Nettle Loaf. This curious but quite tasty afternoon tea treat made good use of that nutrient-rich-soil weed, nettle, and provided my exhausted little green thumbs with a much needed energy boost following a session of hard, digging labour in the science vegetable plot.
Being the home of acidic and dense clay soil, sighting a patch of wild-growing nettles in our town would be akin to finding a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow in the Simpson Desert! Consequently, this spring saw us dusting off the vintage cookbook collection for some alternatives to my weed-infused, tum-filling favourite. Revamped to include plenty of seasonally fresh comestibles, I present to you – from an elite sporting, high carbohydrate era of the past – my recipe for…
Spring Sprouting Pasta Bake
This dish has become a bit of a staple in our family. Loaded with plenty of rainbow, glow foods as well as carbs that pack a punch, this bake has seen us through many a spring and summer week of high energy sporting action. If one happens to also make one’s own pasta, it can be a great way to use up that left over spaghetti or fettuccine…should there happen to be any!
- 2 cups cooked pasta (spirals, spaghetti, fettuccine etc.) or 1 cup dried pasta, cooked
- 1 onion, diced
- 1 sweet potato or ½ small-medium sized pumpkin, peeled and cut into 1-2 cm cubes
- spinach/silverbeet/kale…or whatever leafy green is growing in your garden (about 3 cups)
- 1 bunch sprouting (about a large handful)
- 20 broad beans, podded, steamed and shelled
- 1 cup herbs (rosemary, parsley, oregano, thyme etc.), finely diced
- 1 cup grated cheddar
- Cheesy sauce:
- 60 g butter
- 50g flour
- 2 ½ – 3 cups milk (depending on how thick the consistency)
- ½ – ¾ c grated cheese (cheddar, gouda, swiss, parmesan etc.)
To make the cheesy sauce, melt the butter in a heavy based saucepan. Add the flour and mix to form a roux. Stiring constantly, slowly add about ¾ of the milk. Continue stirring until the mixture begins to thicken. Add a little more milk if the consistency is too thick. When at the desired thickness, stir in the cheese and season with salt and pepper.
To make the filling, heat some oil in a fry pan. Add the onion and cook till translucent. Add the sweet potato, turn to low and cover with a lid. Leave to cook for 5-10 minutes or until tender. Add the spinach, sprouting, broad beans and herbs. Turn off the stove, replace the lid and leave to steam until the spinach has wilted. Tip the contents of the pan into a mixing bowl. Stir in the cooked pasta and season with salt a pepper.
Into a large casserole dish pour half the pasta mixture. Spread half of the cheesy sauce over the top. Pour over the remaining half of the pasta mix followed by the rest of the cheesy sauce. Sprinkle the grated cheddar over the top and cook in a moderate oven (180OC) for 45-60 minutes. Serve, warm or cold, to your hungry hoard, with a side of seasonal salad.
May your tummies be sated and your fuel stores replete: ready for another joyous day out and about in spring.