Brockwell Park Salad

There’s a great park in South London called Brockwell Park, and it has amazing community gardens based around the old greenhouses (it dates back to 1811, so there used to be gardeners on site raising bedding plants for displays). Anyway, some years ago, when the community space was first set up, I was invited to go and help cook the produce at their open day (it was part of my job at the time, working on local food projects – I’m not trying to make out I’m famous). Such a beautiful idyll in the middle of the city.
Anyway, this below is what we made, it was all there was to harvest that day, but happily it was a pretty perfect combination. I always think of it as Brockwell Park Salad – I make it as soon as there’s an excess of nasturtium leaves in the garden…sadly, I haven’t been on the ball enough to grow everything for myself this year, but there were enough new potatoes in the left over dinner I was given, and I have some broad beans in the freezer. The leaves and the onions came from our community garden here in Limehouse.

Ingredients
For every 500 g of potatoes (new or salad potatoes – I like Anya or Pink Fir Apple, ‘cos they’re so dense and nutty)
2-3 generous handfuls of broad beans, fresh young ones or frozen, slipped out of their little white jackets
2-3 spring onions
½ red onion
Rocket leaves – wild or cultivated
Baby nasturtium leaves – if you haven’t got any, you could use watercress, as they come from the same family and taste similar.
2 tablespoons olive oil
Pinch of salt, preferably flakes or coarsely ground
Coarsely ground black pepper – optional, as the leaves are peppery.

Method
Boil the potatoes in their skins. Placing the broadbeans in a sieve, immerse them in the boiling water for 3-4 minutes, then remove and set aside.
Meanwhile, finely slice the red onion, and chop the spring onions at an angle, into 1cm lengths. Gently heat the oil, and sweat the spring onions for a couple of minutes so they just lose their oniony bite.
Drain the potatoes, and gently squash them to crack their skins – you may need to cut up some of the larger ones. Add the oil, spring onions and the salt, mix through and set aside to cool down a little – it’s fine if you serve it warm, but the leaves will wilt too much if the spuds are too hot.
When cooled a bit, add everything else and fold in. If you’ve got some nasturtium flowers (mine aren’t in bloom yet) you could use a few on the top, but I quite like it yellowy cream and bright green with a hint of crimson from the red onion.

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Pasta Primavera – asparagus, broadbeans and petit pois

…or how to make my favourite expensive vegetable go further.

This recipe uses a ‘pasta bianca’ sauce, but the way it is made in restaurants. I learnt the method from my friend Claudio, who is an amazing cook. It means you can make it vegan, or optionally vegan, adding parmesan to each plate separately if desired. I think this recipe, with asparagus, doesn’t need cheese – in fact, is better without it – but do as you will, dear reader 😉

Ingredients – serves 2 people, but it is easy to double it up

250g dry weight of ‘smooth’ as opposed to ribbed pasta (pasta liscia)
I used linguine, but I would have used penne lisce, if I’d had some – the important thing is that it is smooth to go with the silky texture of the vegetables.
125g (about half a bunch) asparagus – choose a bunch with thinner rather than thicker spears, as it gives the illusion of being more when they’re cut up
100g fresh or frozen broad beans, their inner skins removed – if you can’t get them, substitute frozen edamame/green soya beans
100g frozen petit pois
2 cloves of fresh garlic, finely minced
1 tablespoon oil or a knob of butter
10g plain flour
200ml cold water (this is about a scant level tablespoon of flour in a hi-ball glass of water)
Salt
Coarsely ground black pepper, to taste.

Method
Skin your broadbeans.
Put a large pan of salted water on to boil for the pasta.
Meanwhile, trim woody ends from the asparagus, and cut spears into 2-3 cm lengths. Bring a small pan of water to the boil, add asparagus and cook for a couple of minutes until done but al dente. Strain over a jug (the water is very good for you!) and refresh asparagus under cold water.
Add pasta to the big pan, and cook as per instructions on the packet until also al dente. While the pasta is cooking, make a paste with the flour and a little water until smooth, then add the remaining water and mix well. In a small pan over a medium flame, heat oil (or melt butter and when gently foaming), add garlic. When fragrant, about 30 secs, add flour and water mixture and stir continually for 4-5 minutes until the sauce slightly clears and thickens, (it should be an ivory colour and it will begin to bubble up and rise in the pan,) check that the ‘raw flour’ taste has completely disappeared and season – you might not need salt if you’ve used butter, but don’t forget it if you’ve used oil.
Two minutes before the pasta is ready, add the peas and beans to the water. Strain all in a colander, and return to pan, add asparagus and the sauce and mix through. Black pepper and/or parmesan are optional, but there should be enough vegetables in this to be brimming with taste as it is. The fresh garlic gives the sauce plenty of flavour.