Friday 24 June 2011

In Praise of Peas

 I am feeling a bit guilty.  I feel I am misrepresenting the title of my Blog.  Urban Ethnic - obviously meant to be very multi-cultural and here I am, droning on about Italian food yet again.  I promise that this is the last time for a while and that I will make more of an effort to embrace some other worlds but the arrival of all the beautiful summer vegetables - Asparagus nearly finished and the markets filling up with Peas and Broad Beans, Runner Beans and Spinach, just makes me think "Italian". 

I say Summer, when traditionally I think we may have called these spring vegetables but I am not sure why. Here we are, the Summer Solstice been and gone and only the peas in my garden are ready to pick, so I shall continue to refer to them as Summer Vegetables.  Maybe they are called Spring Vegetables because we plant them in Spring.

In homage to my garden peas, of which I am so proud this year, I tried some Orzo with Bacon, Peas and Parmesan Cheese.  I don't know how I managed to never hear about Orzo but now that I have, it is like someone who lives in your street that you never new existed for years until suddenly one day you are introduced and after that you bump into them, every half an hour, for the next three weeks.  So it is with Orzo - it seems to be everywhere at the moment. Merchant Gourmet have added it to their impressive range of ingredients along with Giant Cous Cous and Camargue Red Rice and all sorts of things I am constantly on the hunt for.  They really seem to be a company with their finger on the pulse.

Anyway, I was really impressed with Orzo.  It sort of has the texture of something between tiny Gnocchi and perfectly cooked rice - something I am still striving to achieve!  This recipe took me about 10 minutes to make from start to finish and made a fantastic family lunch.  Quicker and less fattening than Risotto, I most certainly will be using a lot more of it.  I can't wait to try it in my Minestrone.

Talking of Minestrone, there is no better homage to new season's vegetables than The River Cafe's Summer Minestrone from their fantastic first book. It is not strictly a Minestrone at all as it contains no dried beans, pasta or bacon and I was full of apprehension when I came to make it again, as I had not tasted since I was working there, about 15 years ago.  I remembered it being the most stunning soup and I was anxious that it was not going to live up to its memory.  I needn't had worried - it was absolutely delicious. I even managed to find it still on The River Cafe's Summer Menu on their website, and at £12.50 a bowl, it damn well should be!

Summer Minestrone (Minestrone Estivo)
The River Cafe Cook Book

This Recipe Serves 10

2 garlic cloves peeled and chopped
1 small head celery, chopped
3 small red onions, peeled and chopped
4 tablespoons olive oil
900g thin asparagus trimmed and cut into 1cm pieces using only tips and tender parts
450g young green beans ,trimmed and chopped
450g peas, shelled
900g broad beans, shelled
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1L chicken stock
1/2 bunch basil finely chopped (or marjoram or mint)
300ml double cream
150g Parmesan freshly grated
120ml pesto

In a heavy sauce pan fry the garlic celery and onion gently in the olive oil until soft about 10 minutes.

Divide all other vegetables between two bowls. Add half to the onion mixture and cook stirring to coat with oil for a further 10 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Cover with chicken stock and bring to the boil. Simmer for 30 minutes.

Add the remaining vegetables and cook for a further 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and add the herbs, cream, Parmesan and pesto. Stir to cool at room temperature,  then serve.


½ a clove of garlic, chopped
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 good handfuls of fresh basil, leaves picked and chopped
A handful of pine nuts, very lightly toasted
A good handful of freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Extra virgin olive oil
A small squeeze of lemon juice

Pound the garlic with a little pinch of salt and the basil leaves in a pestle and mortar, or pulse in a food processor. Add a bit more garlic if you like, but I usually stick to ½ a clove. Add the pine nuts to the mixture and pound again. Turn out into a bowl and add half the Parmesan. Stir gently and add olive oil – you need just enough to bind the sauce and get it to an good consistency.

Season to taste, then add most of the remaining cheese. Pour in some more oil and taste again. Keep adding a bit more cheese or oil until you are happy with the taste and consistency. You may like to add a squeeze of lemon juice at the end but it’s not essential. Try it with and without and see which you prefer. 

Orzo with Bacon, Peas and Parmesan

2 Tablespoons olive oil
200g Streaky Bacon, cut in small lardons
150g orzo pasta
1 1/4 cup fresh or frozen peas
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
Little Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Freshly Ground Black Pepper

Fry the bacon in a little oil, over a medium heat until really crispy.  Remove from the heat.  Cook the Orzo in plenty of salted, boiling water.  If using fresh peas, add after about 3 minutes, if using frozen peas, add after about 6 minutes.  Bring back to the boil and cook for about 6-7 minutes in total.  Drain when cooked and add to the bacon.  Use the oil from the bacon to coat the pasta and add the Parmesan cheese and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil, freshly ground black pepper and salt to taste.  Garnish with young pea shoots.


  1. ooh I love fresh peas and have recently had peashoots for the first time and they are delicious! Your Orzo dish look particularly attractive, hope you have a nice long season and get a good crop.

  2. I have carmargue red rice on the stove. Randomly added red berries and broad beans (I usually add broad beans and dill to white rice).


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