The garden is luscious. Everything is green and chaotic and heavy under the hot summer sunshine. It’s the time of gluts, with harvest after harvest bringing in more fresh vegetables than we can eat each day. Having not yet mastered the art of staggered sowing, our harvests come in short, frenetic bursts.
'Fresh' takes on an entirely new meaning when you are growing your own vegetables. The sweet, crisp, vitality of produce you can pick from your vegetable beds while in the process of cooking cannot be rivalled even by the farmers' markets we love. Beetroot brought in, soil still clinging to their little roots, to be quickly washed, sliced and scattered on a pizza. A tomato, cut and added to a salad while it is still warm from the sun. The soggy imitations of vegetables found at supermarkets hardly seem deserving of the same name.
'Fresh' takes on an entirely new meaning when you are growing your own vegetables.
Freshness is the goal. Preserving, pickling and freezing can come later, as the season advances; but for now it's about making the most of each harvest as it comes through the backdoor, while it is crisp, juicy and colourful.
Meal planning – usually a leisurely activity in our house, involving favourite cookery books, music and a glass of wine – becomes a military exercise in damage limitation. How many ways can you prepare a courgette in a week? Can you substitute spinach for chard? Do you think we could have a side of runner beans with that? How many potatoes do you think you could manage tonight?
As mentioned in last month's post, we have added broad beans to our garden crop this year, and we are now at the height of the harvest. We have added them to salad, pasta, pizza and toast, as well as simply piling them – blanched, and dressed with a little extra virgin olive oil – at the side of other dishes.
Today, I feel like something both crisp and comforting.
Broad bean and chard risotto
Prep time: 5 minutes
Cooking time: 20 minutes
I always used to associate risotto with the colder months: hearty, peppery parsnip and parmesan (from Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's The River Cottage Year) for an autumnal evening, or leek and chestnut (also one of Hugh's, from his River Cottage Veg Everyday!) to soothe the soul in those bitter early days of the year.
But I am a recent convert to the summer risotto: this light, clean dish is a perfect way to showcase the freshness of your summer produce.
a pinch of saffron
50g unsalted butter
3 spring onions, roughly chopped
150g risotto rice
a generous splash of white wine
a small bunch (about 15g) of parsley, roughly chopped
400ml light vegetable stock
100g podded broad beans
a large handful of young chard leaves, roughly chopped
salt and pepper
Begin by putting the saffron and 2 tablespoons of just boiled water in a small cup, and set to one side to infuse.
Meanwhile, heat the butter in a large saucepan over a low heat until just beginning to bubble. Add the spring onion, and cook for a few minutes until slightly softened. Add the risotto rice and a pinch of salt, and stir to coat the rice thoroughly with the butter, and leave on the heat until it begins to crackle, with should take about a minute.
Add the wine, parsley, saffron with its water, and allow the liquid to absorb for a minute or two. Start adding the stock a little at a time, until tender but still with a little bite. You may not need to use all of the stock, so keep testing.
Meanwhile, blanch the broad beans in a little salted water for a minute or two, depending on size.
When the rice is almost tender, add the broad beans, chard leaves and a good squeeze of lemon juice from one half of the lemon, and stir everything together. Serve immediately, garnished with the cress and remaining lemon.