How glorious is this time of the year? I seem to spend much of my time at present giving thanks for the blessing and joy of the new season’s produce. The thrill of being able to cut asparagus spears directly from the bed and pop them into a pot of well salted water within minutes of picking. Add a drizzle of melted butter or a blob of three minute Hollandaise sauce, a sublime feast…
And then there are the fresh peas swelling in the pods and the joy of watching the grandchildren and their little friends racing up and down the row tweaking the fattest ones off the vine and then the excitement as they learned the new skill of how to get the sweet, juicy peas out of the pods rather than out of a plastic bag in the freezer. It’s an eye-opener to realise how many folk and not just children have never seen a pea in a pod and have no idea how to go about getting them out or realise that they can be eaten raw.
We’ve also had the first of the broad beans, possibly my favourite vegetable of all.
Once again, they must be super fresh to blow your mind.
Freshness is incredibly important to flavour and indeed nutrients in vegetables. This is where home gardeners score, plus one enjoys every bite, even more, when you understand how much time and TLC went into growing them.
Broad beans also grow nestled inside furry pods, so they are even more appealing to extract. We love to sit around the table, podding them before supper, while we sip a little glass of something.
When they’re young, I love to eat them raw, just dipped in a little bowl of extra-virgin olive oil, then a sprinkling of sea salt….
They are also delicious pan-grilled in the pods, brilliant on the barbecue too, then eat them straight from the pods.
We’ve also been gorging ourselves on new season’s carrots, I love to nibble them, freshly pulled from the ground, a quick wash under the tap in the greenhouse – crunch, crunch…
And the children love them raw too, it’s brilliant to see them feasting on fresh vegetables, preferring them raw when they might have turned their sniffy little noses up at a cooked version.
Carrots are also super tasty roasted. Try it, they are particularly delicious added to salads with some labneh or a goat cheese and lots of fresh herbs.
Last but certainly not least, we planted a few rows of a variety of cabbage called Caraflex in the greenhouses this year. They’ve got a pointy nose like ‘sweetheart’ or what we used to call ‘greyhound’ cabbage years ago. The flavour is absolutely wonderful, either raw or cooked. Once again, my favourite new way of cooking it is either fried in a ton of sizzling butter or a combination of frying and roasting…Who knew that roast cabbage would be so good. I’ve no idea who came up with this way of cooking cabbage but whoever it was, I will be eternally grateful for their ingenuity….Perhaps it was an accident as so many great discoveries are.
Looks like we will have a glut of blackcurrants this year. They won’t ripen until mid to late July but meanwhile, the leaves are incredibly aromatic, so we’ve been using them for Blackcurrant Lemonade and this irresistible blackcurrant leaf sorbet that makes a chic starter for a summer dinner party.
Here are a few of my favourite recipes to celebrate the bounty of the
Chargrilled Peas in the Pod
Peas cooked in this way are super delicious and totally addictive
450g fresh peas, about 85 pods
2-3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
flaky sea salt
Pop a pan grill on a high flame. Toss the pea pods in a very little extra virgin olive oil and some flaky sea salt. When the pan is very hot, lay the pods in the pan in a single layer, allow to colour from the grill, flick over and char on the other side.
Taste, add a little more salt if necessary.
Put the pod between your teeth and enjoy the peas as they pop out
Chargrilled Broad Beans in the Pod
Grill broad beans in a similar
Chicken Breasts with Green Asparagus
Soaking the chicken breasts in milk gives them a tender and moist texture. We often serve this recipe with orzo, a pasta which looks like grains of rice sometimes called riso. Always worth having a packet in your pantry.
4 chicken breasts, free range if possible
salt and freshly ground pepper
110g Irish asparagus in season
150ml homemade chicken stock
roux (equal quantities of butter and flour – melt the butter and cook the flour for 2 minutes on a low heat, stirring occasionally)
sprigs of chervil
orzo, optional (see recipe)
Soak the chicken breasts in milk, just enough to cover them for 1 hour approx.
To prepare and cook the asparagus.
Hold each spear of asparagus over your index finger down near the root end, it will snap at the point where it begins to get tough. Some people like to peel the asparagus, but we rarely do. Cook in about 2.5cm of boiling salted water (1 tsp salt to every 600ml water) in an oval cast iron casserole. Cook for 2 or 3 minutes or until a knife tip will pierce the root end easily. Refresh in cold water, drain and cut into 2.5cm pieces at an angle.
Next, discard the milk, dry with kitchen paper and season with salt and pepper. Heat the butter in a sauté pan until foaming, put in the chicken breasts and turn them in the butter (do not brown), and cover with a round of greaseproof paper and the lid. Cook on a gentle heat for 5-7 minutes or until just barely cooked.
When the chicken breasts are cooked remove to a plate. Add the chicken stock and cream to the saucepan. Bring to the boil, whisk in a little roux just enough to thicken the sauce slightly. When you are happy with the flavour and texture of the sauce, add the chicken breasts and asparagus back in. Simmer for a 1-2minutes, taste and correct the seasoning. Serve immediately garnished with sprigs of fresh chervil and some freshly cooked orzo as an accompaniment.
If the sauce is too thick add a little chicken stock to thin to a light coating consistency.
Orzo with Fresh Herbs
Orzo looks like fat grains of rice but is in fact made from semolina. It is sometimes sold under the name of ‘Misko’.
2.3 litres water
1 ½ tsp salt
salt and freshly ground pepper
1 tbsp chopped parsley (optional)
Bring the water to a fast rolling boil and add the salt. Sprinkle in the orzo, cook for 8-10 minutes* or until just cooked. Drain, rinse under hot water, toss with a little butter. Season with freshly ground pepper and garnish with some chopped parsley.
*Time depends on the type of Orzo.
Orzo with Peas
275g of orzo and 200g peas
Add the peas to the orzo 3-4 minutes before the
end of cooking – serve as in master recipe.
Charred Cabbage with Katsuobushi
Charred cabbage is a revelation, who knew that cooking cabbage in this way could taste so delicious and lift this humble vegetable into a whole new cheffy world. Lots of sauces and dressings work well with charred cabbage but I love this combination. Katsuobushi are shaved bonita flakes. Bonita is a type of tuna. Buy some – you’ll soon be addicted and find lots of ways to use it up. Alternatively, omit the katsuobushi flakes and serve the butter basted cabbage as a side. Can be served as a starter or as a side.
1 medium cabbage
1 tbsp light olive oil or a neutral oil
flaky sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
katsuobushi flakes (optional)
Trim the cabbage. Cut into quarters or sixths depending on the size.
Preheat the oven to 230°C/gas mark 8.
Heat a cast iron pan, add a little oil, swirl to coat the bottom of the pan. Lay the cabbage wedges cut side down on the pan, cook on a medium heat until well seared on both cut surfaces, add butter to the pan. When the butter melts and becomes ‘noisette’, spoon the melted butter over the cabbage several times. Sprinkle with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, cover and continue to cook, basting regularly for about 10 minutes. Test with a cake skewer or the tip of a knife close to the stalk to make sure it’s tender through.
Add some katsuobushi flakes (if using) to the
butter and baste again. Transfer to a serving platter or individual serving
plates. Sprinkle some more katsuobushi flakes over the top and serve
Rory O’Connell’s Salad of Roast Carrots, Chickpeas, Lemon and Coriander
Thank you to my brother Rory for sharing this delicious recipe.
‘This is a fresh tasting and delicious salad. It would fit into a selection of salads or could be a standalone dish when served with a little labneh. It would be a good accompaniment for roast or grilled lamb.’
To roast the carrots
3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
pinch of sugar
2 x 400g tins of chickpeas
2 tsp roasted and ground cumin
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1-2 tbsp chopped coriander
zest of 1 lemon
2 tbsp lemon juice
1 tbsp pomegranate molasses
pinch chilli flakes
sea salt and freshly ground pepper
pinch of sugar
Preheat the oven to 180°C/gas mark 4.
If necessary, peel the carrots, otherwise scrub until spotlessly clean. If the carrots are large, they can be cut at an angle into 1cm thick slices. Very small carrots can be left whole or medium carrots can be halved lengthways. Toss the prepared carrots in the olive oil. Season with salt, pepper and a pinch of sugar and place on a roasting tray in a single layer. Roast for approximately 20 minutes until tender but not soft. Remove from the oven to cool slightly.
While the carrots are roasting, drain the chickpeas of their liquid and rinse well. Place in a bowl and add the cumin, olive oil, coriander, lemon zest and juice, pomegranate molasses and chilli flakes. Season with sea salt, pepper, a pinch of sugar and mix well. Taste to ensure that seasoning is accurate and delicious.
When the carrots have cooled to tepid, mix them into the chickpeas and stir with a flexible spatula. Have one final taste to check seasoning.
Blackcurrant Leaf Sorbet
Use only young blackcurrant leaves, when the bushes begin to flower, they lose their powerful blackcurrant flavour. We also use this recipe to make an elderflower sorbet – substitute 4 or 5 elderflower heads in full bloom.
2 large handfuls of young blackcurrant leaves
600ml cold water
juice of 3 lemons
1 egg white (optional)
Crush the blackcurrant leaves tightly in your hand, put into a stainless steel saucepan with the cold water and sugar. Stir to dissolve the sugar, bring slowly to the boil. Simmer for 2 or 3 minutes. Allow to cool completely. Add the juice of 3 freshly squeezed lemons.
Strain and freeze for 20-25 minutes in an ice cream maker or sorbetière. Serve in chilled glasses or chilled white China bowls or on pretty plates lined with fresh blackcurrant leaves.
Note: If you do not have a sorbetière, simply freeze the sorbet in a dish in the freezer, when it is semi-frozen, whisk until smooth and return to the freezer again. Whisk again when almost frozen and fold in one stiffly beaten egg white. Keep in the freezer until needed.
If you have access to a food processor. Freeze the sorbet completely in a tray, then break up and whizz for a few seconds in the processor, add 1 slightly beaten egg white, whizz and freeze again. Serve.