Early Summer Minestrone

Home grown veg, no matter how small or misshapen, are a world away from those bought from the supermarket. It has that something special, it’s been cared for by you, it’s got soul. Over the year homegrown veg can provide you with so many fresh and vibrant tastes; from the earliest of peas and beans, to the sugary sweetcorn of late summer, to the pumpkins and roots of autumn.
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This soup is like taking a seasonal look at the plot. It’s a vehicle for the fabulously mixed flavours of the allotment this month (or any month actually). At its base is a great chicken stock and a softened soffritto (the classic Italian soup and sauce base); but apart from that the soup is about using what is available. As such a recipe is not what you need to make this, all you need to do is go to the garden and pick what is in season. The soup benefits from the freshest of vegetables, balanced with a good source of carbs. In huge spirit of adding what you have in season, then this should be potatoes or dried beans. I often use broken pasta or some of the tiny pasta shapes like orzo, combined with small dice potatoes and cannellini or a similar bean.

You will need (serves 4)
3 tbsp olive oil, plus extra to serve
1 onion, chopped
1 clove of garlic, crushed
2 carrots, cut into fine dice
2 sticks of celery, cut into fine dice
Seasonal vegetables of your choice (at the moment a couple of handfuls of fresh peas and broad beans, 3 large leaves of Swiss chard, shredded, but any veg works)
1.5l good quality chicken stock
1 potato, cut into 2cm dice
100g cooked and drained haricot beans (or whatever bean you have)
150g pasta (I’ve used broken bits of pasta, but orzo or another small pasta is great too)
Grated parmesan and a few mint or basil leaves, to serve

Heat the oil in a heavy-based pan and add the onion and garlic, softening for 5 minutes, before adding the carrot and celery and softening further. Add the rest of the seasonal vegetables in order of cooking time (peas won’t take as long as courgette for example) and allow to soften slightly. Stir in the potato, stir for a moment, then add the stock, the cannellini beans and pasta. Bring to the boil, then simmer for about 15 minutes until the potato and pasta are cooked. Season to taste, drizzle with some olive oil, a grating of parmesan and some torn mint leaves.

 

 

How to grow French Beans

Prone to late frosts, cold winds and slugs, now is the time to grow French beans. I planted out my climbing bean Cornetti Meraviglia di Venezia last week, but only sowed Dwarf French bean Boby Bianco in situ in the last few days. The dwarf varieties work well, allowing a bumper crop without the need for supports. They also are the best to grow if you want to extend the season and grow under cover. Beans are best sown into moist soil that is rich in organic matter, a few centimetres deep and initially under cloches. To get a succession of crops, sow every month or so until late summer. As the plants develop and get flowers, make sure that you water regularly, as this will encourage more flowers and thus more beans. A mulch of organic matter around the base of the plants helps to retain the moisture and also gives a nutritional boost to the plants. You can also use a tomato feed (or something similar like comfrey or nettle ‘tea’) to help encourage the development of more pods.

Pick the beans regularly to keep them producing. They are at their best when their slim pods hide the beans seeds perfectly, and the flesh snaps crisply. If you’re unable to devour all the beans available when they’re at their best, just blanch in boiling water for a minute or so and open-freeze, before transferring to freezer bags. They cook brilliantly from frozen when needed.

Beans also do a great job of improving the soil even after their harvest. They enrich the soil by fixing nitrogen in nodules of bacteria on their roots. To capture this nutritional boost, cut off the stems of the plants at ground level when they have finished cropping, leaving the roots to enrich the soil.

 

 

 

Favourite Five Broad Bean Recipes

favorite fiveI’ve mentioned earlier this month that the first broad beans of the season are a real delight for me. I like the fact that you can plant a few beans in October or November and they emerge in the last of the autumnal sun, brush off whatever the winter throws at them, then rapidly grow as the days warm in spring. One single bean brings one plant, but a whole basket of harvested pods and countless beans. They are one of the easiest of crops to grow, only being slightly blighted by black fly and bird attack. I’ve found that overwintering the beans seems to cut down on the black fly attacks, but opens up the possibility of birds like pigeons feasting on the new shoots. So I often use a net to cover the plants in their infancy, and also pinch out the tops of the plants when the beans are formed; which I’m told reduces the chance of the black fly descending. As an ingredient the beans are perhaps at their best when small and sweet, although the larger beans work well when made into purees and we had amazing large dried and fried beans in Peru; a kind of Latin salted peanut.

Broad bean

Broad beans are a great ingredient and often make their way onto our plates. Here are my Favourite Five Broad Bean recipes.

Broad Bean Hummus – Cook 400g of shelled beans in boiling, lightly salted water till tender  about 8-10 minutes or so). Drain, cool and pop them out of their slightly grey skin. Whizz with a small sprig of mint in a food processor before pouring in a little lemon juice, and some olive oil as the processor blitzes. Continue to mix until smooth.

Broad Bean, Pea and Mint Tagliatelle  – This is perhaps our favourite spring/summer pasta dish. Start by blanching the beans   and peas (100g of each shelled). If the beans are young you don’t need to peel off the outer skin, but if older its worth the time. Take half of the beans and peas and whizz in food processor until semi-smooth. Finely chop a garlic clove and soften in some olive oil, add the whizzed pea/bean mix and cook for a minute or so. Add 200ml of double cream and the other half of the beans and peas. Stir in a handful of chopped mint and 75g grated parmesan. Add your choice of cooked pasta to the sauce, serve with a little extra parmesan sprinkled on top.

broad bean pea and mint pasta

Broad Bean Falafels – Place 500g podded broad beans in a food processor and whizz; add 1tsp. baking powder, small red onion, 1 clove garlic, handful of chopped coriander, parsley and mint, and 1 tsp. cumin seeds. Blend until smooth, adding a little lemon juice to help it break down. Add a little olive oil and then form into balls. Chill for a few minutes and then fry in oil until crisp, serve in a pitta with hummus and minted yoghurt.

Broad Bean and Chorizo Tapas – Cook the podded broad beans in salted water for 8-10 minutes, drain and peel off greyish skin. Meanwhile, slice a chorizo and fry in a little oil. Add the beans to the chorizo and spicy oil, toss for a few minutes, then add chopped flat leaf parsley.

Broad Bean, Pea and Feta Orzo Salad – Orzo, a delicate grain-shaped pasta, is quick to cook. Whilst it cooks, sauté 2 shallots, lemon zest, and some cooked peas and beans in a bit of butter. Combine the bean and pea mix with the pasta, some chopped feta, and a finely chopped mint. A great summer salad or side dish.

What ways do you use broad beans in your cooking?

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