Spring on my plate
what I did with my weekly shop...
The season of plenty is upon us and we are being well and truly spoilt for choice when it comes to fresh produce. It’s always a joy to visit my local farm shop to find an array of fresh seasonal fruit and vegetables but this weekend when I dropped by there, my eyes popped out with excitement, like a child in a candy shop. The bounty of spring and early summer was too hard to give a pass to.
I haven’t talked much about my local farm shop on my blog but I truly adore them for their green ethos geared around low waste and a plastic-free shopping experience. I have been shopping there since late 2017. My very first visit was completely impromptu and exploratory; but it left me feeling positive, grateful and hopeful about the area we had just moved to. It’s not just the fresh and local produce they source from nearby farms but also the friendly exchange of words and affection I receive every time I see them. Top that with a thoughtful suggestion of ‘would you like a box to carry your shopping home?’ and you’re soon thanking them for saving the day when you forgot your own shopping bag. There’s always enough cardboard and wooden boxes going spare and they encourage their customers to use them to carry shopping home. I get good use out of these cardboard boxes before recycling them. They make a good toy sleigh for your toddler to shuffle around and sometimes even a wonderful photography prop. My shopping has always been plastic-free, usually seasonal and local and I thank my Gods for putting me so close to such wonderful small food suppliers.
I often buy a little selection of whatever looks fresh and seasonal, without a firm plan about what to cook. The produce itself is the inspiration. This weekend I found some fresh broad beans (aka fava beans) and purple asparagus. So purple in fact it was almost black in colour. The heady freshness and seasonality of the produce intensified my cravings for something truly warm, comforting and spring.
And that was the inspiration for this spring risotto. My husband sometimes does the cooking on a Friday night so we got to discuss what he might make with the ingredients I had picked. Now my husband comes from Welsh and English stock but for reasons unknown, his second favourite cuisine (after Indian of course!) is Italian. You are much more likely to get pasta than a roast dinner if he ever cooks for you. His (and my) affinity for Italian food could be the subject of a whole newsletter but let’s not digress from this one for now.
We both love risotto at any time of year. It’s a blank canvas for whatever happens to be in season at the time. Pumpkin risotto in the autumn, kale in winter, beetroot in late summer… and to add to that list we now have asparagus and broad bean risotto in June. You’ll find all my seasonal risotto recipes on the blog.
It’s cooked in the simplest possible way with the veggies added right at the end so that they retain their flavour and subtle crunch. But what good are broad beans in a risotto if they’re not shelled and skinned? As soon as I expressed the desire to skin the broad beans my usually-very-enthusiastic-about-cooking husband, dropped the idea of the risotto like a hot potato. He took some convincing with a suggestion to blanche the broad beans first to make the tough skins easier to remove.
So we double-podded the broad beans, removed the skins of the beans themselves after discarding the outer pods leaving only the sweet green kernels to add to the risotto. A bit of a faff. But so worth it if your tastebuds are as refined as mine. My husband did mutter something about ‘this isn’t a fine dining restaurant you know’ as he popped them open one by one. But even he agreed it’s worth the effort in the end. The trick is to boil the beans for two minutes after removing the outer pods and then blanche them in cold water. You can then pierce the outer skin with your nails and squeeze out the insides.
To top the dish off we added some chive flowers. My garden is buzzing with bees again and these chive flowers are what they make a beeline for (quite literally!). I’ve always loved the purple pom pom flowers that adorn our chive pot at this time of year but only recently discovered how edible they are. The purple balls that top each chive stem are actually made up of dozens of tiny purple flowers. You can snip them off and sprinkle over your dish for colour, flavour and to give the humble risotto the va-va-voom it deserves. They taste of…well… chives, so no surprise there. Tiny oniony flavour grenades ready to go off on your tongue.
So there you have it, spring on my plate…
1 medium onion
4 sticks of celery
4 cloves of garlic
160g carnaroli rice
150ml white wine
650ml chicken or vegetable stock
1 sprig of lemon thyme
1 fresh bay leaf
300g asparagus, washed and chopped into 2.5cm pieces
150g broad beans, weighed after double podding (see above)
Olive oil for frying
50g vegetarian parmesan cheese, grated
Salt and black pepper
One chive flower (optional)
Double pod the broad beans and set aside.
Fry the garlic, celery and onion in olive oil gently for 5-10 minutes to soften well without adding much colour.
Meanwhile, warm up the stock in a separate pan.
Add the rice and stir to coat in oil.
Add the thyme and bay leaf. Stir again for a minute or two.
Add the white wine and stir until it’s fully absorbed by the rice.
Season with salt.
Add stock a ladle full at a time allowing the rice to almost fully absorb it before the next. Stir regularly.
When the risotto is nearly done, fry the asparagus gently in olive oil in a separate pan until just cooked.
When the rice is cooked and the risotto is still runny (not stodgy) turn off the heat, throw in the broad beans and asparagus and stir.
Then add the butter, parmesan and black pepper. Stir once more, put the lid on the pan and leave for 2 minutes before serving.
Garnish with a sprinkling of chive flowers and more parmesan if you like it. Eat straight away.