Finding the time to really outdoors-it is hard. I’m darting from meeting to meeting, phone call to phone call, and of course email to email, organising designers, photographers, artists, advertisers, journalists. So at 7.30pm when I finally make it to the allotment, it’s a pleasant sight to see the foxgloves reach full glory. Their’s is the palest of delicate pink, and already seem a welcome source of nectar for the bumblebees.
Sadly the bean apocalypse continues. What on earth is going on with these? Is it wind damage? I’ve put in an SOS request to my mother to see if she can shed any light. The prospect of a summer with no beans is too much to bear!
On the other side of the plot though the broad beans have come up trumps. Yesterday I made the first harvest of the season, and they popped out of their spongy cacoons tiny and emerald green, the size of my little fingernail (nb, I have very small fingernails).
These, plus the baby sorrel, spinach, chard, a fistful of rocket, basil and oregano, make for a seasonal risotto primavera. This classic Italian dish uses the first spring vegetables; over there it probably gets made in February but in Birmingham it’s made in June. C’est la vie! I added a few asparagus spears to the mix – and also two precious baby sugarsnap peas from the patio.
The quantities for this can very depending on what you have…it’s just a Tuesday night supper. Feeds two with leftovers.
Small mug-full of risotto rice
Butter and olive oil
1 shallot, finely diced
3 cloves of garlic, finely diced
Large glass of white wine
About 1 litre of really good chicken (or veg) stock, home-made and kept warm on the hob
Asparagus, sliced into 2cm lengths
Baby broad beans
Handful of freshest spinach, chard, sorrel, rocket or nettles, washed and sliced
Handful of herbs – basil, oregano, hyssop, tarragon – roughly chopped or torn
Lemon, to taste
Parmesan, to taste
Butter, extra herbs, salt and pepper, to finish
In a large heavy-based saucepan, melt a knob of butter and splash of oil on a low heat. Sweat the shallot until soft, around 5 minutes, then add the garlic and cook for a few seconds until the scent rises. Season with salt and pepper at this stage. Turn up the heat, add the rice and toast for a minute or two until it starts to quietly crackle and pop. Add the wine and stir stir stir until it is nicely reduced and the rice shows the start of creaminess. Now add the stock a ladleful at a time, stirring until each addition is absorbed. It takes ages to cook risotto and this bit may take at least 30+ minutes; the rice must reach the stage of being nearly done but with the tiniest level of firmness remaining, suspended in a creamy buttery ‘sauce’.
When you’re nearly there, say 5 minutes before the end, toss in the asparagus and cook for a few minutes. Then add the beans and greens, cook for one minute, then stir in the herbs, parmesan, another knob of butter, salt and pepper and lemon to taste. The veg doesn’t need or get much cooking. Turn the heat off, pop the lid on, then leave it all to settle for five minutes. Give it a final stir then serve, with more parmesan and herbs.