Asparagus, Broad Bean and Pea Salad with Farro, Feta and Baby Spinach, Crisp Prosciutto

Whilst lurking around in an Italian deli last week in Putney, I stumbled upon the whole selection of the Bartolini Range.  Up until that moment I had only known of their Farro Perlato, but it appears that they have a brilliant selection of lovely pulses, pastas and cereals all from Umbria.  I bought some lovely looking Borlotti Beans, Cannellini Beans and Chickpeas as well as Orecchiette and Trofie Pasta.

Farro is the Italian word for Emmer wheat. It is a wheat grain, actually a kernel, that resembles barley and is specifically grown in Italy but grows wild in the Middle East.  It is hulled but not “polished” and therefore retains a rustic character both in taste and consistency. Like the other grains in the wheat family, Spelt and Kamut, Farro is botanically closer to ancient varieties of grains and has a high vitamin, mineral and fiber content.

Anyway, I love the stuff and often put it into all sorts of soups. But it works equally well in salads too.

Asparagus, Broad Bean and Pea Salad with Farro, Feta and Baby Spinach, Crisp Prosciutto

1 Bunch of Asparagus, snap off ends and cut the rest into 1 inch pieces

200g podded Broad Beans, (or frozen)

200g shelled peas, (or frozen)

100g Farro

100g Feta

Large handful of Baby Spinach

4 slices of Prosciutto or Parma Ham

Mint

Lemons

Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Salt and Freshly Ground Black Pepper

First cook your Farro in plenty of salted boiling water until cooked and nice and chewy.  Drain and allow to cool.  Whilst still warm dress with a dressing make of some freshly squeezed lemon juice, some extra virgin olive oil and lots of salt and pepper.  Allow to cool completely.

Cook the asparagus in lots of salted boiling water for about 3 minutes, until tender. Remove and refresh in lots of cold water.  Next put the peas in the water.  Bring it back to the boil and cook until tender.  Refresh.  Finally cook the Broad Beans in the water and cook for about 3-5 minutes.  Refresh and shell when cool. Place your slices of Ham on some tin foil and bake for about 10 minutes in a medium hot oven until crisp.  Remove and allow to cool.

Finally mix the Farro with the asparagus, broad beans, peas and freshly chopped mint.  Check for seasoning.  Just before serving toss through some baby spinach leaves.  Pile onto a large plate.  Crumble the feta on top and finally crumble the crisp ham over.

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Navarin of Lamb with Broad Beans, Asparagus, Peas and Mint

Last week it was all summer fruits and ice-cream and salads and then the weather changed. I was almost tempted to turn the heating on – in June – as the temperatures plummeted and the rain lashed at the windows. Forget the ice-cream, it was back to stew weather. But what stew do you eat in June. A Navarin of lamb of course packet with lots of tender, young spring vegetables and lots of vibrant fresh mint. So delicious you could forget about the awful weather!

Navarin of Lamb with Broad Beans, Asparagus, Peas and Mint

The vegetables are flexible here – use what you have. Tender new seasons carrots, little spring onion heads or French beans all work well.

Serves: 4

Extra virgin olive oil

2 large onions or leeks, chopped

A couple of sticks of celery, finely chopped

2 garlic clove, finely chopped

450 g (1 lb) lean boneless leg of lamb, trimmed of fat and cut into cubes

150 ml (5 fl oz) red wine

450 ml (15 fl oz) lamb or chicken stock (or use good quality stock cubes)

1 or 2bay leaves

A few sprigs of fresh rosemary, very finely chopped

Baby new potatoes, scrubbed (cut into bite sized pieces if large)

Small turnips, scrubbed and quartered

Bunch of asparagus, cut into even sized pieces about ½ cm

Large handful of shelled fresh peas

Large handful of shelled broad beans

Fresh mint

Heat some oil in a large heavy bottomed saucepan. Add the seasoned lamb, in batches so as not to over crowd the pan. Brown evenly on all sides. Remove with a slotted spoon. Turn down the heat of the pan and add the chopped onion, celery and garlic and cook, stirring, for 5-10 minutes or until softened. Scrape the browned bits of lamb of the bottom of the saucepan and stir them into the veg. Add the cubes of lamb back to the pan with the wine, rosemary, bay leaf and stock

Bring to the boil, then cover and turn the heat down. Let it gently bubble away for 1 hour.

Meanwhile boil the broad beans for three minutes and then plunge them into cold water. Shell.

Add the turnips and potatoes to the stew and stir. Cover the casserole again and continue cooking for 30–45 minutes or until the meat and vegetables are tender. Next add the peas and asparagus and cook until just done. Finally add the broad beans and mint. Check seasoning and serve.

Asparagus with Hollandaise

I made hollandaise the other day for my Eggs PSB and I had forgotten how totally sumptuous it is. I know it is terribly fattening but there is no better way to enjoy your asparagus at the start of the season and do it full justice.  Do not be afraid of hollandaise. It is no more than a hot mayonnaise and can be made in the time it takes to cook asparagus.

Asparagus with Hollandaise

1 large bunch asparagus

For the Hollandaise sauce

1 small onion or shallot, very finely chopped

50mls white wine vinegar plus a splash for poaching the eggs

125g good quality butter, cut into cubes

2 free-range egg yolks

Sea salt

Squeeze of lemon

Put a large saucepan of salted water on to boil, big enough to fit in the asparagus. Snap the stems of the asparagus to remove any woody ends.  The asparagus with naturally snap were it becomes tender. Find a bowl big enough to fit over the saucepan.

To make the hollandaise: In one small pan melt the butter and put to one side. In another small pan, heat the onions, vinegar and a little water. Boil until the liquid has reduced to around a tablespoon (keep an eye on it, as the liquid will suddenly reduce very quickly). Take off the heat immediately and strain through a fine sieve. Put the reserved liquid in your bowl (you should have just over a tablespoon) and discard the onion. Add the egg yolks to the bowl. Add your asparagus to the simmering water. Place the bowl over the top and whisk the yolks vigorously until pale in colour and voluminous (this will take a minute or two but work quickly to avoid over-cooking and scrambling the eggs). Your yolks should be thick and foamy. Remove from the heat immediately. Still whisking constantly, start adding the butter, drip by drip initially. Don’t add the butter too quickly, or the mixture will split. Keep adding and whisking, so the mixture emulsifies and looks glossy; this will take about 3 minutes. Season with salt and a squeeze of lemon. Keep warm and remove your asparagus from the water. Drain well and serve with the hollandaise.

Summer Minestrone (Minestrone Estivo)

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.

Summer Minestrone (Minestrone Estivo)

Summer Minestrone (Minestrone Estivo)

The River Cafe Cook Book

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
120ml pesto

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.

Herb Box

Pesto

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
Optional
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.

Broad beand shelled

Asparagus Spears with Soft Boiled Egg

It is always so exciting when asparagus turns up in your box again, albeit from Spain. Not quite British season yet, although I am scouring my asparagus beds on my allotment daily for any signs of life. When I worked in restaurants we used to make an amazing, though somewhat complex dish, of ravioli with an egg yolk inside. When cooked for exactly the correct time, the pasta was al dente and the egg yolk just runny inside. We served this with some new seasons asparagus spears alongside and it made a delicious brunch or light lunch. Here is a somewhat easier variation to try at home. Soft boiled eggs with asparagus instead of soldiers, to dip in.  No recipe is needed.

Asparagus

Baby Spinach, Wild Rice, Broad Bean, Grilled Asparagus & Courgette Salad with Crispy Onions

Finally for this week, another really delicious salad and a meal in itself. I am back to grilling veg again and although I know that grilling courgettes maybe a bit laborious, I cannot think of a vegetable which is more elevated by this simple process. The rather tasteless courgette absorbs the smoky flavours of the grill and is transformed into something quite exceptional.

The crispy onions are another favourite of mine and are such a marvellous addition to so many dishes. You can make up a batch and they will keep crispy for up to a week in an air-tight container. The oil, which you can re-use each time you make a batch, also serves as a delicious dressing and gets more intense the more times you re-use it.

I love adding a couple of handfuls of shelled broad beans to my salads. Their pale green colour so quintessentially says “spring” so get them whilst you can because along with the asparagus, they will be finishing soon.

I love the chewy texture and nutty taste of Wild Rice and it is super good for you too. It is a little hard to get hold of so stock up on it when you see it because it is one of my salad ingredient staples.

Crispy Onions

Crispy Fried Onions

Thinly slice a few large onions. Cut off the top end of the onion and peel the rest of it. Slice as thin as possible. A Mandolin is really good for this or you can use a food processor. Place a saucepan on a high heat and add about an inch of vegetable oil. You don’t want to use too much oil as the more intense the flavour the better. Heat the oil to 180⁰C using a thermometer. Add the onions slowly and deep fry until light golden brown. Be careful not to burn, stirring regularly, especially in the corners where the onions will cook most quickly. Remove with a slotted spoon, straight into a colander lined with kitchen paper over a bowl. Break up any clumps and leave to crisp up. Season lightly with salt. When cool pour the oil into a bottle for further use.

Courgette, Asparagus & Broad Bean Salad

Baby Spinach, Wild Rice, Broad Bean, Grilled Asparagus & Courgette Salad with Crispy Onions

Serves 2 as a main

A Couple of handfuls of baby spinch (washed)

200g broad beans

1 bunch asparagus

50g Wild Rice (try Tilda)

2 courgettes

Crispy fried onions (see above)

Olive oil

Sea salt

First put your rice in a saucepan with plenty of cold water and a good pinch of salt. Boil gently for about 20 minutes until pleasantly chewey to eat. Drain. Meanwhile put another pan of water on the boil. Snap amy woody end off the asparagus and drissel with a little olive oil and sea salt. Slice the cougette into flat ribbons. A mandolin is brilliant for this, otherwise use a sharp knife. The slices should be about the thickness of a £1. Heat your grill or light you BBQ. Once the water is boiling add the shelled broad bean and boil for about 2 minutes. Drain and immediately refresh in cold water. Whilst you are grilling the courgettes and the asparagus, slip the broad beans out of their skins. Put the drained rice in a large bowl and add a tablespoon of the onion oil and a large pinch of salt. Taste it and notice how the flavour has come alive. Add the spinach and broad beans and gently mix. Tip onto plates and pile the courgettes and the asparagus (cut into 3cm lenghths) on top and finish with some crispy onions.

Asparagus

Grilled asparagus & baby gem salad with feta & mint

I couldn’t wait to get started with a Grilled Asparagus & Baby Gem Salad with Feta & Mint. Grilling your veg keeps them lovely and crisp whilst adding a delicious hint of smoke. This is a great salad to make if you are having a BBQ at the weekend, as it is so quick and easy, especially if you already have the BBQ lit. Mint is everywhere at the moment. One of the first signs of summer in my garden is when the mint reappears from nowhere, green and lush.

Herbs_mint

If you don’t have any in your garden, be sure to add some to your Riverford order. Like all my recipes you can easily adapt the ingredients and this super salad would have worked just as well with grilled courgettes or even whole spring onions. It occurred to me that a few delicious broad beans would have been lovely scatted on top as well. If you are looking for a good olive oil for this recipe, I would like to recommend Riverford’s Italian Extra Virgin at £5.95 for 500ml. I like the one from Giancarlo in Puglia best – it has a lovely peppery taste.

grilled asparagus_baby gem salad with feta and mint

Serves 2 as a main or 4 as a side

Bunch of Asparagus

One or two Baby Gem Lettuces (depending on size)

100g Feta

½ a Lemon

Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Sea Salt

Few Sprigs of Fresh Mint

 Snap any woody ends off your asparagus and drizzle with good olive oil and sprinkle with a little salt. Trim the very end off the baby gem lettuce and then cut in half lengthways through the root, taking car to keep it in tack. Cut each half into three wedges. Again drizzle with good olive oil and sprinkle lightly with salt. Heat your griddle or BBQ until smoking. Lay the flat sides of the lettuces on the grill, turning as soon as they have a clear char mark. Do the same with the asparagus making sure they are just cooked through. (It is imperative that your asparagus is very fresh.) Make a dressing with the juice of half a lemon, whisked up with a good pinch of salt and some extra virgin olive oil. Arrange the baby gem and asparagus on a plate and crumble over some feta. Roll up your mint leaves and finely slice to create a chiffonade. Sprinkle over the top and drizzle on your lemon dressing.