It has been too hot to cook. Too hot to do much at all. And yet the Kitchen Garden has been demanding attention. If we take our eye off the ball right now we will find that currants and berries will rot on the bush, in late summer there will be no more salad and, come autumn, there will no turnips, swedes or winter lettuce. Harvesting has become a twice daily occurrence and beds must be cleared to make room for the last of the summer sown crops.
A couple of weekends ago, just as we were preparing to head off to Hokkaido, we spent two mornings picking gooseberries and blackcurrants for the freezer. If you have a hat and water bottle and keep in the shade of the bushes, this can be a very pleasant way to pass a hot, sunny morning with friends; picking, chatting, eating and laughing. The resulting Tupperwares full of berries are their own reward. Whenever I am squatting on my milking stool picking blackcurrants I remember – always too late – Sarah Raven’s method, which is to cut out the oldest canes when laden with fruit and then take these to a comfortable, shady spot to pick the berries off at leisure. Needless to say this is never the way it happens.
We returned from Japan to find that both sowings of peas – one late winter, another mid spring – had caught up with each other and we had a pea glut comparable with the currant glut. Here it was a much more straightforward decision to simply take out the plants – leaving their nitrogen-fixing roots in the soil – and pick off the pods in the shade of the open barn by the house. Nothing can compare to the satisfaction of podding peas into a bowl and I have a particular fondness for shelling them into a red enamel metal bowl, which reverberates like a gong as the peas hit the sides, its colour vibrating against the green of the peas.
The peas are no longer in their prime, but freshly picked and quickly cooked, they are still quite delicious. We most often eat peas cold in summer. Thrown into a pan of boiling water for a few minutes, drained and then refreshed in cold water I will throw a couple of handfuls into salads, or puree them with mint, stock and cream to make both a green hummus-like dip or a thinner, refreshing chilled soup. Peas and white cheeses of all sorts go together beautifully, both the salty – feta, halloumi, pecorino – and creamy – Vignotte, goat curd, ricotta – providing different types of contrast to peas’ natural sweetness.
Here burrata – a type of mozzarella filled with cheese ‘rags’ and cream – provides a decadent richness which, mixing with the basil oil dressing, creates a delicious sauce. It is customary to serve burrata at room temperature but, when it’s as hot as it has been, I prefer the cheese to be lightly chilled, and so take it out of the fridge around 20 minutes before it is needed. If you can’t get hold of burrata then substitute with a good quality, fresh buffalo mozzarella or a piece of ripe Vignotte.
100g shelled peas
A small handful of young leaves; lettuce, pea shoots, watercress, rocket
1 burrata or burratina, 100g weight
4 large Genovese basil leaves
3 tablespoons olive oil
½ small clove garlic
Zest and juice of ¼ lemon
¼ teaspoon salt
Small-leaved basil or torn Genovese basil to serve
Wash and dry the salad leaves.
Put a pan of water on to boil.
Put the salt, garlic and basil leaves into a mortar and crush into a coarse green paste. Add the olive oil, lemon zest and juice. Stir to combine.
Cook the peas in the boiling water for 2 to 3 minutes. Drain and quickly refresh under a cold running tap. Drain off excess water.
Arrange the salad leaves on a plate. Spoon the peas over the leaves. Place the burrata in the centre. Spoon the basil dressing over everything. Strew over some basil and serve immediately with some oiled and grilled sourdough bread.
Recipe & photographs: Huw Morgan
Published 27 July 2019