Darina Allen: A heavenly way to enjoy some of your precious fresh peas

It’s been a busy week, just doing the final corrections for my next book, Grow, Cook, Nourish. Every time I think we’re there, another list of queries come winging their way by email. 

This book has been over two years in the making and may just be the most important book I ever write because I’m encouraging people to think about growing even a little of our own food.

Once you experience the magic of harvesting something you grew yourself and then prepare and enjoy it, you’ll be hooked, not to speak of the joy and health giving properties of freshly picked food.

This really hits home at the moment when I’m picking new season’s broad beans and peas, it’s a Zen like experience and then we sit around the kitchen table shelling the peas and unzipping the broad beans to retrieve the little treasures from the velvet lined pods. 

Every supper or dinner party starts with a get together with the guests. I pour a glass of wine or cordial and then we all sit around shelling, podding and gossiping in a blur of nostalgia, recalling childhood memories. 

For some it’s the first time they have ever podded a broad bean or shelled a pea, an American visitor to the school recently asked me what the fresh peas were and when I showed him how to open the pods he tasted a fresh pea for the very first time in his life – his eyes were as big as saucers and he suddenly said, maybe if I grew these I could get my kids to eat some vegetables at least – what a revelation.

This is not the first time I’ve been asked how to shell peas. Peas are so worth growing for the home gardener because one can eat them at every stage, the pea shoots, flowers, ‘wizard whiskers’, as the tendrils are called. 

The peas can be eaten at mange tout stage and then of course the peas and the pea pods can be used for a soup.

In Rome, the arrival of the first broad beans are considered to be the harbinger of Spring. 

Both at home and in local trattorias people sit around the table in little groups podding broad beans and flecking out little chunks of pecorina romana, a sharp salty sheep’s milk cheese that contrasts deliciously with the sweet tender broad beans. 

The season starts earlier than ours, so Fave e pecorino are often enjoyed for Easter Sunday breakfast with crusty bread and a special pork fat studded salami called corallina, a delicious ritual that has endured.

We also love to dip each bean in a little extra virgin olive oil and a little flaky sea salt. As the season progresses the skin thickens and the sugars turns to starch, so at that stage the broad beans are best double peeled. 

It’s very easy to over cook them, they just need to be cooked in boiling salted water for a minute, then drained and refreshed in cold water, then popped out of their shells and continue with the recipe. Gorge on both peas and broad beans while the season lasts.

In last week’s column I mentioned a pea mousse but it didn’t make it into the text because of space restriction so here it is. It is a delicious summery little starter. 

Hope you’ll also find time to make and enjoy this green gooseberry and elderflower tart and elderflower fritters from the fluffy blossoms that are adorning the hedgerows all over the country at present.

Pea Mousse with Pea Shoots, Radishes and Shrimps

This is my interpretation of a delicious starter dish that I ate recently at a restaurant in London. 

It is exquisite made with fresh peas but I have to admit, I have also made it with frozen peas and the result has been pretty delicious. 

We use the beautiful little shrimps (palaemon serratus) from Ballycotton but it’s also good without them.

Serves 6

  • For the mousse
  • 500g fresh peas
  • Half teaspoon salt
  • Half teaspoon sugar
  • 1 gelatine leaf
  • 150ml water
  • Salt, freshly ground pepper and sugar
  • 100ml of softly whipped cream
  • 1 tablespoon chopped mint

For the garnish

  • 50g fresh peas, blanched and refreshed
  • A mixture of French Breakfast and Cherry Belle radishes
  • Tender fresh pea shoots
  • 75g – 100g small pink shrimps (palaemon serratus), cooked
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • Flaky sea salt

Bring 150ml fresh cold water to a fast rolling boil, add salt, sugar and peas, return to the boil for 2-3 minutes, drain, save the cooking water, and refresh the peas under cold water.

When cold, whizz to a smooth purée with 100ml cooking water. Push through a nylon sieve into a bowl, chill.

Soak the gelatine in cold water, allow to soften for 4-5 minutes, drain, then dissolve the softened leaf in a tablespoon of hot water. 

Add the pea purée gradually then cover and chill for 30 minutes to 1 hour or until just beginning to set. 

Fold in the softly whipped cream. Divide between six wide soup bowls, cover and allow to set.

Meanwhile, trim and slice the radishes lengthwise and put into iced water.

To Serve

Put the peas into a bowl, add the peeled shrimps and the pea shoots. Drizzle lightly with extra virgin olive oil, a few flakes of sea salt and freshly ground pepper. Toss.

Top each mousse with a generous portion, scatter five or six slices of radish over the top, add a couple of drops of extra virgin olive oil and a few flakes of sea salt and serve.

Chargrilled Peas

Peas cooked in this way are super delicious and totally addictive.

Serves 4-6

  • 450 g (1 lb) fresh peas, about 88 pods
  • 2-3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • Flaky sea salt

Pop a pan grill on a high flame.

Toss the pea pods in a very little extra virgin olive oil and some flaky sea salt.

When the pan is very hot, lay the pods in the pan in a single layer, allow to colour from the grill, 3-4 minutes, flick over and char on the other side.

Taste, add a little more salt if necessary.

Put the pod between your teeth and enjoy the peas as they pop out.

Ballymaloe Green Gooseberry Tartlets

Makes 36 tartlets approximately

  • 1 quantity cold cream pastry (see recipe below)
  • 450g (1lb) green gooseberries (topped and tailed)
  • caster sugar

Preheat oven to 190C/375F/Gas Mark 5.

Using plenty of flour roll the cold pastry to a thickness of 2mm (1/8 inch). 

Cut the pastry with a 7.5cm (3 inch) round cutter and use the disks of pastry to line a standard flat based bun tray.

Cut the gooseberries in half and arrange 6-7 halves on each disk of pastry. 

Place a rounded teaspoon of caster sugar on top of the fruit in each tartlet. 

Bake the tartlets for 15-20 minutes or until the sugar begins to caramelise and the pastry is a golden brown colour. 

Remove the tartlets from the bun tray while still hot — use a palette knife for this — and place on parchment paper which has been sprinkled with caster sugar.

These tartlets are best served warm.

Cream Pastry

Sounds scary but this pastry is really delicious and flaky. It keeps in the fridge for up to six days.

  • 110g (4oz) cold salted butter
  • 110g (4oz) plain flour
  • 150ml (5fl oz) cold cream

Sieve the flour into the bowl of an electric food mixer. 

Cut the butter into small cubes and rub into the flour using the paddle attachment until the mixture forms a coarse texture (slow speed and then a little faster). 

Do not over mix, if you do the mixture will form a shortbread like ball. 

Pour the cold cream into the coarse mixture and mix on a low speed until a smooth pastry forms. 

Wrap the pastry in parchment paper and chill overnight.

Always roll cream pastry straight from the fridge. If the pastry comes to room temperature it will be too soft to handle!

Risi e Bisi

Comfort food at its very best. Young shelled broad beans can also be added.

Serves 6 -9

  • 2kg fresh young peas (podded weight approx. 2 lbs)
  • 1 kg broad beans (podded 500g approx.)
  • Maldon sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 125g butter, softened
  • 3 tablespoons fresh flat-leaf parsley, chopped
  • 1.75 litres homemade chicken stock
  • 200g onion, finely chopped, we use our new season’s spring onions
  • 300g risotto rice
  • 110g Parmesan, freshly grated

Pod the peas and save the pods. Bring a large saucepan of water (4.8L) to the boil, and add 2 tablespoons of salt. Add the pea pods and cook for 5 minutes. Then scoop them out. 

Put through a mouli, with a couple of tablespoons of the cooking water. Blanch the peas in the boiling pea pod water, drain and add to the pea-pod pulp. 

Next bring the water back to the boil, add the broad beans and cook. Drain, refresh and shell.

Season with lots of freshly ground pepper and add 45g of the butter

Put half into a food processor and pulse. Return to the whole peas.

Heat the stock. Taste and check for seasoning.

Melt half the remaining butter in a heavy-bottomed saucepan. 

Gently fry the onion until soft and just beginning to colour. Add the rice, stir to coat each grain with butter and cook for 2-3 minutes. 

When the rice is opaque, increase the heat to medium and start to add the hot stock ladle by ladle, adding the next only when the last of the stock has been absorbed. 

Stir continuously. After 10 minutes add the peas and parsley, continue to cook until the rice is al dente – about 10 minutes.

Finally, stir in the remaining butter, and most of the Parmesan. 

Taste and correct seasoning. Serve immediately in deep wide soup bowls, with a little more Parmesan sprinkled over the top.

Hot tips

A Farmers Market near you: Killavullen Farmers Indoor Market is located on the grounds of the Nano Nagle Centre. Saturday, June 17, and every fortnight, just 10 minutes from Mallow on the N72, 10.30am to 1pm.

The Cottage Market at the CreameryYard in Kildorrery, Co Cork, is a fortnightly Saturday market from 11am to 2pm, ten minutes from Fermoy and Mitchelstown. 

The next market is on June 24 and July 8; phone Ciaran Cotter on 086-3761816 for details.

East Cork Slow Food Summer Pop Up Dinner: Our 12-Week Certificate students at the Ballymaloe Cookery School on Saturday, June 24, cook up a feast from the organic farm, gardens and glasshouses, fish from nearby Ballycotton and meat from our local butcher. 

Tickets €40 for Slow Food members and €45 for non Slow Food members. Booking is essential on 021-4646785 or slowfoodeastcork@gmail.com 

No Dig Gardening Workshop with Charles Dowding: Another opportunity to learn the principles of ‘No Dig’ gardening. Charles Dowding has been advocating the ‘No Dig’ technique since 1983 when he started a market garden. His original methods give superb results. 

In our experience here at the Ballymaloe Cookery School, we have healthier crops, higher yields and about 80% less weeds — so what’s not to like about ‘No Dig’. 

We were deeply sceptical at first but have become big converts. His recent course was oversubscribed and got a brilliant response. 

Charles will teach another one day course on Monday June 19. He has written nine books and appears on radio and TV including Gardener’s World. He teaches extensively both at home and abroad. 

Monday, June 19, from 10am to 4.30pm www.cookingisfun.ie 


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