First broad beans of the year turned up in my box this week. It is always so exciting to get the first of the seasons, like meeting a long lost friend. I realized these were the first broad beans of the year, which I was shelling when I discovered that I could no longer shell in my usual way. (I am a confirmed and devout double podder.) My finger, which I trapped in a door back in last November, had subsequently lost its nail and although it has almost nearly regrown, it was still not quite long enough for broad bean shelling. As a result, I have had to adapt and learn to do it left handed.
There is no better homage to new season’s vegetables than The River Cafe’s Summer Minestrone from their fantastic first book. It is not strictly a Minestrone at all as it contains no dried beans, pasta or bacon and I was full of apprehension when I came to make it again, as the recipe seemed so simple and I had not tasted since I was working there, about 20 years ago. I remembered it being the most stunning soup and I was anxious that it was not going to live up to its memory. I felt it wasn’t quite “room temperature soup” weather yet so I served mine warmish. I needn’t had worried – it was absolutely delicious. I even managed to find it still on The River Cafe’s Summer Menu on their website, and at £12.50 a bowl, it damn well should be!
You can make your own pesto or buy a good quality one. Riverford stock an organic one, but I have included a recipe, just in case you happen to find yourself overwhelmed by a glut of basil.
This Recipe Serves 10
I halved the recipe and had enough for 6. Also, as I was making it for a Vegetarian, I just used water instead of chicken stock and it was just as delicious. As I said, I like double podding my broad beans, so I blanched them first and shelled them again, before adding right at the end to keep their super spring green colour.
2 garlic cloves peeled and chopped
1 small head celery, chopped
3 small red onions, peeled and chopped
4 tablespoons olive oil
900g thin asparagus trimmed and cut into 1cm pieces using only tips and tender parts
450g young green beans ,trimmed and chopped
450g peas, shelled
900g broad beans, shelled
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1L chicken stock
1/2 bunch basil finely chopped (or marjoram or mint)
300ml double cream
150g Parmesan freshly grated
In a heavy sauce pan fry the garlic celery and onion gently in the olive oil until soft about 10 minutes.
Divide all other vegetables between two bowls. Add half to the onion mixture and cook stirring to coat with oil for a further 10 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Cover with chicken stock and bring to the boil. Simmer for 30 minutes.
Add the remaining vegetables and cook for a further 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and add the herbs, cream, Parmesan and pesto. Stir to cool at room temperature, then serve.
½ a clove of garlic, chopped
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 good handfuls of fresh basil, leaves picked and chopped
A handful of pine nuts, very lightly toasted
A good handful of freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Extra virgin olive oil
A small squeeze of lemon juice
Pound the garlic with a little pinch of salt and the basil leaves in a pestle and mortar, or pulse in a food processor. Add a bit more garlic if you like, but I usually stick to ½ a clove. Add the pine nuts to the mixture and pound again. Turn out into a bowl and add half the Parmesan. Stir gently and add olive oil – you need just enough to bind the sauce and get it to an good consistency.
Season to taste, then add most of the remaining cheese. Pour in some more oil and taste again. Keep adding a bit more cheese or oil until you are happy with the taste and consistency. You may like to add a squeeze of lemon juice at the end but it’s not essential. Try it with and without and see which you prefer.