B’s lettuce, mint and pea soup

When I first started growing things, I never had much luck with lettuces – they either got totally slugandsnailed or I ended up with too many and got sick of the sight of them. My friend B made me this soup several years ago, and together with a Chinese recipe for braised lettuce with oyster sauce, I am no longer put off by the thought of a glut – ‘though I’m still struggling with the slugs.
This is the essence of summer in a bowl, for those days when we have a hot spell and even if you water twice a day, all the lettuces threaten to bolt and turn bitter overnight or, as has just happened down at the community garden, a heavy summer storm has beaten them up really badly. It’s not unlike petit pois à la française as a puréed soup, but the mint gives it an extra zing.
You could of course, use your own homegrown peas – I usually only grow mangetout, so I use frozen peas, which also need less cooking.

Ingredients – to make 1 ½ – 2 litres
The proportions can be pretty flexible, but if you’re using an iceburg lettuce, it’s probably a good idea to be more generous with the peas and mint, ‘cos they can be a bit bitter.
If you are using homegrown peas, then after you’ve shucked them, boil the pods in the water for about 10 minutes for more flavour in your stock. Strain and use.

1 onion, or 3 – 4 spring onions, finely chopped.
2 generous handfuls of frozen peas/petit pois – or homegrown, as young as possible.
Lettuce, finely shredded – (2 little gem, or ½ an iceberg, or 1 cos or equivalent amount)
2 teaspoons sunflower oil
1.5 litres water
Pinch of salt or to taste
2 or 3 sprigs of fresh mint tips

Method
Over a low heat, sweat the onion with the salt and oil, until softened. Add the lettuce and wilt for a minute or two, add water, bring to the boil and add the peas. Cook until tender, but still bright green. Turn off the heat, add mint leaves, and whiz or put through a mouli. Taste for seasoning and serve.

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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.