“It never rains but it pours, well it certainly has over the last month, affecting major crops across the whole of the UK and Europe” ….and so started a worrying email about the state of the fresh seasonal vegetable supply to the UK. Compounding the problem, it seems more people are eating hot meals with winter type vegetables this summer, rather than salad (I’m guilty here). “Farmers are unable to harvest their crops dueto ground conditions with some crops under four inches of water”…and so it went on.
As part of my role, overseeing 15 million meals a year to a discerning group of older people in Scotland, Wales, England and Ireland, this is a real concern to me. It made depressing reading. “Broccoli and cauliflower crops are ruined – Germany is waterlogged with their swede harvest wiped out,” (who is eating swede now anyway?). Poor availability means costs are soaring and crops for the frozen market seriously depleted.
I imagine that vegetable gardens in the Donheads are no better. My runner beans haven’t emerged out of the ground – broad beans are looking healthy but no sign of any beans. I have a single courgette with potential, but soggy strawberries. My currants are healthy but lie flattened. Summer show entries? Not this year.
This time last year and many years previously, I spent my evenings harvesting vegetables, digging potatoes and stopping Lucy, my westie from stealing the lowhanging fruit from the trees and pulling up the cabbages from my tiny vegetable bed. She smelt my fresh carrots as soon as they emerged, and pulled them up by their feathery tops. Lucy would leave apples, pears, tomatoes, peas and beans half eaten, strewn all over the garden. She’d been known to pull a whole runner
bean wigwam over – all in search of something she knew was sweet, juicy and forbidden. I lost my rag with her on many an occasion as she proudly appeared in the kitchen, tail wagging with soil all over her head. Pea pods were one of her favourites.
And this brings me to this months’ recipe. Pea and mint risotto – eaten on it’s own it’s wonderful, or to accompany sausages, chicken – almost anything any time of the year. It is also a great store cupboard staple – especially if you have garden peas in the freezer, as every good household should in my opinion. (You certainly need them if you have a thieving terrier in the house). I knock this recipe up, with many variations when there is little in the fridge, or if I arrive home late and need some therapy… a soothing ‘stir’ by the stove, glass of wine in hand, reflecting on the day.
The best risottos are made with the best rice – Arborio has a fat grain and makes for a creamy risotto; Carnaroli, also excellent, holds its shape but is not so creamy. Cheese – parmesan is traditional but try hard goat or ewe’s cheese. Just experiment or use what you have. Stock cubes/powder is fine, vegetables and fresh herbs from your garden or frozen. Fortunately this year, you don’t need broccoli, cauliflower, swede or potatoes.
Lucy, dear girl, I miss you – RIP June 2012 aif
Pea and Mint Risotto
Serves 1 Approx. £0.85
This is ‘fast’ comfort food. Quantities and ingredients are approximate – this is not a precise recipe, however if you have not made a risotto before, there are very particular recipes available in many books and on the intranet. This will work if you follow the method and your taste buds, as it is as individual as you are, because itis for one. Add more of what you enjoy. This can also be made on the top of a barbecue; real fire in the woods or gas fire when camping. I’ve even made this in a microwave!
Small knob butter – preferably unsalted
Splash olive oil
1 small onion or equivalent – finely sliced and chopped
½ celery stick (optional) finely sliced
½ mug blanched fresh peas or frozen garden peas/petit pois
½ mug risotto rice of your choice – pearl barley or spelt even works
1 mug hot stock – vegetable or chicken is fine (you need double the volume of stock to rice – hence measured here in a mug.)
Big splash white wine (optional)
Lump (50g) hard cheese (parmesan/hard goats cheese or other well-flavoured hard cheese,) finely grated
Tsp chopped mint/tarragon/parsley/whatever you have (thyme/rosemary etc need to be treated differently)
Sprinkling toasted almond slivers (optional but adds a nice crunch and a little needed bitterness – alternatively try sunflower seeds)
1. Heat a small pan and melt the butter with the splash of olive oil.
2. Add the onion and celery if using, stirring gently to cook until soft – not brown, 5–6 minutes.
3. Add the rice of your choice and coat with the butter and onion mix, stirring over a medium heat for a minute or more.
4. Add the white wine if using and stir well until the rice mixture thickens.
5. If you are using a woody herb (thyme or rosemary, very finely chopped), add now.
6. Chill (that’s you!) Stirring constantly but slowly, add generous splashes of the hot stock until all the stock has all been absorbed, or you feel it is of the right consistency and nice and creamy. This may take 20–25 minutes.
7. Whilst still quite wet, add the soft herbs of your choice (mint / tarragon / parsley) plus peas (if using frozen, it’s best to have run them under water or through a sieve to rid them of any ice first) and stir well until it bubbles again.
8. Add two thirds of your grated cheese, black pepper and taste.
9. Serve in a bowl, sprinkled with the remaining cheese and sprinkle with toasted almonds.
A truly, truly scrumptious dish.
These musings and recipes are gleaned from The Donhead Digest with the permission of AIF, their author.