|Broad beans, garlic and Florence Red onions|
Every potato has sprouted into a canopy providing much needed shade to the tubers you just know are growing abundantly. Bright spots of luscious red mark the strawberry bed where healthy plants poke through weed-suppressing cover and are guarded by a mesh-covered frame. Evenly-spaced raspberry canes are already fruiting nearby and rows of broad beans stand to attention, straight-backed and regimented. Sadly, not my plot but my east-side allotment neighbour. Ex-army? There's something about Ray's disciplined plot that makes me think so. Every area seems to be organised and considered, from the raised nursery bed to the onions, which, needless to say, are enormous. Ex-Royal Engineers? Whatever, clearly I need to make friends.
How different from my own plot. I am a stranger to straight lines, instinctive in my practices, a firefighter rather than a planner. Sometimes things work out, sometimes they don't. One year the courgette crop will be fantastic, the next a disaster. Onions will sulk their way through one spring and grow to the size of cricket balls the next. I am a philosophical gardener and I try not to let size matter. Yet I keep straying over to check on Ray's plot. There must, I reasoned, be something that's not quite working out. Then I spotted the blackfly, thickly massed around the growing tips of those uniform broad beans. At last, a chink in Ray's armour.
I couldn't get back to my own broad beans quickly enough to check them. Sure enough, there the blackfly squatted, farmer-ants keeping them in their place and milking them for their sweet honeydew secretions. Normally, pinching out the growing tip is sufficient to stop the colony in its tracks. But not this year. Onward they have marched, shepherded by their guardians, down the length of the stem and onto the bean pods. And it hasn't stopped their, barely germinated runner beans are being ambushed, even spinach and chard have been blitzed. Each visit, battle is joined here on plot 45. My weapon of choice the soap-spray, has been enhanced with a garlic brew and success, I'm convinced, will be mine.
Ray, on the other hand, is not a firefighter. Those stately broad bean plants now stand stunted, their crop overwhelmed. The strawberry plants he gave me are doing well in their ramshackle housing on plot 45. I think I need to offer him some broad beans in exchange. I'll try not to be triumphalist, honestly I will.
|Peas in the pod|
Lifting my first garlic in early summer coincides with the pea and broad bean harvest. Here's a dish I always make at this time of year to celebrate the real start to harvesting. If the peas and beans are cropping earlier, I'll also add a few asparagus tips from the market.
Pappardelle with peas, broad beans & new season garlic
200g (8oz) 'OO' flour
2 large eggs
pinch of salt
A little polenta to help prevent sticking to the worktop
60g (2oz) unsalted butter
About 1kg mix of broad beans and peas in their pods
1-2 cloves of fresh garlic, thinly sliced
150ml (5 fl oz) vegetable stock
A small handful of mint, roughly torn or chopped
Put the flour and salt in a bowl. Maker a well and add the eggs. Mix to bring the ingredients together. Either knead in a mixer with a dough hook for 2 minutes or on a work surface, by hand, for 10 minutes. If you use a machine, knead the dough by hand on the worktop for a further half minute (the warmth of your hands finishes it off perfectly). You will now have a smooth firm dough. Wrap it in cling film and allow to rest in the fridge for at least half an hour.
Pod the beans and peas and cook in boiling, salted water for 30 seconds. Plunge them into cold water, drain and pop the broad beans out of their skins. Keep the peas and beans to one side.
Bring a large pan of water to the boil and salt the water (correctly it should be 1 litre of water to 10g of salt and for this quantity of pasta you should use at least 2 litres/20g). As the water comes to the boil, feed the pasta dough through the pasta machine on its lowest setting. Fold the dough and repeat 3 more times. Increasing the setting by one mark each time, feed the dough through the machine once until you reach the penultimate setting (if you are as short of kitchen space as I am you'll want to cut your rolled pasta in half, or into thirds, part way through the rolling to make it more manageable, so you end up with 2 or 3 sheets of pasta). Lay the sheets on the polenta-floured work surface and cut into wide pappardelle strips.
Heat 30g of the butter gently in a large pan and add the garlic. Cook until just softened. Add the stock and boil to reduce a little. Turn down the heat to a simmer and add the broad beans and peas to heat through for a couple of minutes while you cook the pasta in the salted water for 2-3 minutes (I like it closer to 2 than 3).
Season the vegetables and add the rest of the butter, cut into dice, shaking the pan to emulsify. Take off the heat. Add the drained pasta and 2-3 tablespoon of cooking water to loosen if necessary. Add the mint and serve with lots of parmesan.
NB. The excellent book, Five Quarters by Rachel Roddy has a section on pasta which has changed my own pasta-making habits. I highly recommend it.