Valerie O’Connor says peas are easy to grow — shove them in soil and give them something to hold, water them well, and watch them go
If you love to grow your own food, even a few herb pots, this time of year will blow your mind. About two weeks ago, I planted, absentmindedly, a couple of rows of radishes in my little vegetable bed and was beside myself with excitement when I saw their perfect little plump red globes sitting happily on soil, pushing themselves out as if to say: “Hey pick me! I’m ready.”
Plucking a perfect radish and wiping off the dirt before biting into it’s juicy heaven, is one of the reasons why growing your own is just so satisfying. My rows of purple peas are heavy with fatted pods, weighing themselves down from their staggering heights and begging, like cows waiting to be milked, for their peas to be plucked.
If you don’t pluck the ready pods, the plants stop flowering and no more peas will come, this is when humans and nature have to work together, as it has always been, to create harmony and to help to make delicious, nutritious food. The broad beans have me waiting, twiddling my thumbs while I otherwise trawl my cookbook archives and the corners of my cook obsessive mind for future recipes.
Courgettes are springing up and need little more than a gentle sauté in olive oil and a squeeze of lemon. You can add them to an omelette or pasta, but deep-frying the battered flowers is the best. Peas are so easy to grow, too, just shove them into the soil and give them something to hold onto. Water them well and off they go.
Sitting at the kitchen table with a massive bowl of freshly picked veg is a great time for chats. People of any age become enchanted by podding peas and hearing the popping sound. I used all the pea shells to make a light stock which turned blue at first before settling into a somewhat grim shade of brown. The flavour was delicate and fresh however, and inspired my second recipe for an easy minestrone.
Summer, whether the weather says so or not, is an opportunity to eat lighter food and enjoy the huge variety of greens we have available to us right now. If you don’t have a veg patch, you can get great fresh and organic veg at local markets, once you know that the person standing there has grown them themselves, or at least knows their origin. If you don’t have a ton of fresh peas, frozen peas are one of the best convenience foods.
My good pal Linda inspired this dinner as something her family have for an easy night off meat. It still looks and tastes like pure comfort food, so you can fool unwilling kids into eating a rake of veg that they will hardly notice. A good tasty pesto, homemade or shop-bought, takes away any work, so you have a real one-pot wonder here. The quantities of vegetables are just guidelines.
Method: Cook the spaghetti according to the packet instructions, always in well-salted water and, a minute before cooking time is up, add the peas and broccoli and cook for one minute.
Drain everything through a colander being careful to save some of the cooking liquid.
Stir in the pesto, adding about 50ml of the cooking water, this will help the pesto to turn into a lovely unctuous sauce.
Add in the spinach leaves and give it all a good stir.
Give a couple of turns on the pepper mill over everything and a squeeze of lemon juice to lift the flavours. Enjoy with a nice glass of white and some more greens in a side salad.
Traditionally a slice of pancetta is used to give minestrone it’s lovely salty base, but I’ve left the piggy out of the soup and found flavour with a good dash of white wine.
This soup cooks quickly, as there is little cooking needed for the veg. I stuck with greens, but of course the soup turned reddish with the tomatoes.
Method: In a large pot heat up the olive oil and add the finely diced onion, garlic, and celery and fry everything gently until they soften, this will take about 8-10 minutes.
Add the pasta and give it a stir and now add in the wine and stir and let it bubble for a minute.
Pour in the stock and the tomatoes and bring everything to a bubble.
Drain and rinse the beans and add them to the pot and give them a few minutes to heat up before adding the peas and kale.
Cook on a gentle simmer for about five minutes and season with sea salt and black pepper.
Serve with a sprinkle of parmesan or a squeeze of lemon and some good bread.
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