ArchiveJune 16, 2024

Summer Vegetables

National Eat Your Vegetables Day is this coming Monday, 17th June.

By now the penny has dropped with even the most ardent carnivore that we don’t need huge quantities of meat to be fit and healthy. Best to invest in a little top quality preferably organic meat from a good local butcher.

Here and there all around the country, there are small farmers who are selling their meat direct to the consumer from their farms, often rare breeds e.g. Dexter, Kerry, Irish Maol and Droimeann, a little trawl on the internet will bring up lots of addresses.

But this column is not about meat, it’s actually about vegetables. This has to be my absolute favourite time of the year for vegetables.  Here we are super fortunate to have an acre of greenhouses, a relic of a horticultural enterprise. We are in the midst of the growing season, so the plants are jumping out of the ground.

There are several rows of fresh peas which we eat fresh from the pods. You can imagine how much the grandchildren love picking the pea pods directly from the plants with their friends and having a little feast of peas. The students too love them, for many it’s the very first time they’ve seen fresh peas out of a packet.

We’ve also had the first of the radishes, beets, carrots, globe artichokes and we’ve made our wish with the first of the new potatoes. I never want to do anything fancy with them, just cook them in lots of well salted water, slather them with Jersey butter and sprinkle with flaky sea salt.

Now that the asparagus season is over, we’ve been enjoying the beginning of the broad bean crop too.

Last week, our guest chef was Giuliano Hazan, son of the famous Italian cook, Marcella Hazan.  He was enchanted by the garden harvesting fresh vegetables. He showed us how to prepare the first of the new season’s tiny globe artichokes, he served them in the traditional Italian way, thinly sliced, drizzled with extra virgin olive oil. We used Capezzana from Tuscany, sprinkled with freshly squeezed lemon juice and some flaky sea salt.

He did the same with the raw broad beans, peeling each bean is certainly laborious but it was worth the effort with paper thin slices of pecorino over the top. Sweet and delicious, we served them as a starter.

Young, thinly sliced zucchini were served in a similar way drizzled with extra virgin olive oil, freshly squeezed lemon juice and flaky sea salt and garnished with the yellow blossoms.

For dessert, he shared his mother’s favourite carrot cake recipe, baked not in a loaf tin but in a 25cm round tin, enough for 8-12 people to enjoy. It was moist and particularly delicious, add it to your repertoire.

Giuliano has written five best-selling cookbooks including ‘The Classic Pasta Cookbook’ which has sold well over 500,000 copies – seek it out.

I’ve included three recipes incorporating vegetables currently in season to whet your appetite – I hope you enjoy.

Marcella Hazan’s Crisp-Fried Courgette Blossoms

There are both male and female blossoms, and only the male, those on a stem are good to eat. The female blossoms, attached to the courgette, are mushy and unappealing.

Serves 4-6

12 male courgette flowers

vegetable oil


250ml water

75g plain flour

To Serve


First make the batter.

Put the water into a bowl and gradually add the flour, shaking it through a sieve and with a fork, constantly beating the mixture that forms. When all the flour has been mixed with water the batter should have the consistency of sour cream. If it is thinner, add a little more flour, if it is thicker, add a little more water.

Wash the blossoms rapidly under cold running water without letting them soak. Gently but thoroughly pat them dry with a tea towel or kitchen paper. If the stems are very long, cut them down to 2.5cm. Make a cut on one side of each blossom’s base to open the flower flat, butterfly fashion.

Pour enough oil into a frying pan to come 2cm up its sides and turn the heat to high. When the oil is very hot, use the blossoms’ stems to dip them quickly in and out of the batter, and slip them into the skillet. Put in only as many as will fit very loosely. When they have formed a golden brown crust on one side, turn them and do the other side. Using a slotted spoon or spatula, transfer to a cooking rack to drain or to a platter lined with kitchen paper. If any blossoms remain to be done, repeat the procedure. When they are all done, sprinkle with salt and serve immediately. 

Risi e Bisi (Risotto of Peas or Broad Beans)

Comfort food at its very best, a heavenly way to enjoy some of your precious fresh peas.  Young shelled broad beans can also be added.

Serves 6 -9

1kg fresh young peas (podded weight approx. 500g)

Maldon sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

125g butter, softened

1.75 litres homemade chicken stock or vegetable stock

200g onion, finely chopped

300g risotto rice

3 tbsp fresh flat-leaf parsley, chopped

110g Parmesan, freshly grated

Pod the peas and save the pods.  Bring a large saucepan of water (4.8 litres approx.) to the boil and add 2 tablespoons of salt.  Add the pea pods and cook for 5 minutes.  Then scoop them out.  Put through a mouli, with a couple of tablespoons of the cooking water.  Blanch the peas in the boiling pea pod water, drain and add to the pea-pod pulp.  Season with lots of freshly ground pepper and add 45g of the butter 

Put half into a food processor and pulse.  Return to the whole peas. 

Heat the stock. Taste and check for seasoning.

Melt half the remaining butter in a heavy-bottomed saucepan.  Gently fry the onion until soft and just beginning to colour.  Add the rice, stir to coat each grain with butter and cook for 2-3 minutes.  When the rice is opaque, increase the heat to medium and start to add the hot stock ladle by ladle, adding the next only when the last of the stock has been absorbed.  Stir continuously.  After 10 minutes add the peas and parsley, continue to cook until the rice is al dente – about 10 minutes.

Finally, stir in the remaining butter, and most of the Parmesan – the texture should be soft and flowing.  Taste and correct seasoning.  Serve immediately in deep wide soup bowls, with a little more Parmesan sprinkled over the top.

Carrot Almond Cake

Recipe adapted from ‘Marcella’s Italian Kitchen’ by Marcella Hazan

A particularly delicious carrot cake of his mothers, it keeps really well and may well be the best carrot cake I’ve ever eaten!

Serves 8-12

250g shelled, unblanched almonds

225g plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar

110g dry ladyfingers

250g carrots, peeled

2 ½ tsp baking powder

a pinch of salt

1 tbsp Amaretto liqueur

4 large eggs

flaked almonds (optional)

1 x 25.5cm springform pan

2 tsp butter for greasing the pan

1 tbsp flour for dusting the pan

To Serve

225ml heavy cream, whipped with 1 teaspoon of sugar

Preheat the oven to 180°C/Gas Mark 4.

Put the almonds and the sugar in a food processor and chop as finely as possible.  Transfer to a large mixing bowl.  Break up the ladyfingers into pieces about 2.5cm long, place them in the food processor, and grind to a powder.  Add to the almonds and sugar in the mixing bowl.  Cut the carrots into pieces about 2.5cm long and chop in the food processor as finely as possible.  Add to the bowl, mixing them in well with the other ingredients.

Add the baking powder, the salt, and the Amaretto liqueur and mix well.  Separate the eggs and add the yolks, mixing them in until they are well distributed with the other ingredients. Put the whites in the bowl of an electric mixer.

Whip the egg whites with an electric mixer or by hand until they form stiff peaks. Take a couple of tablespoons of the beaten egg whites and mix them with the ingredients in the bowl to soften the mixture a bit.  Pour the rest of the egg whites onto the mixture and carefully fold them in with a rubber spatula.

Grease the bottom and sides of the springform pan with the butter and dust it with flour.  Pour the batter into the pan, then shake the pan a bit until the batter is evenly distributed. Sprinkle some flaked almonds over the top if desired.

Place the cake in the upper level of the preheated oven and bake for 45-50 minutes, or until a skewer comes out clean when inserted into the cake.

When the cake is cool, cut it into 8-12 pieces and serve with a dollop of whipped cream.


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