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Give peas a chance

give-peas-a-chanceI always imagine that the first sign of May sunshine brings with it a bounty of spring produce and that long hot summer days are just around the corner. What a hopeless optimist I must be! Nature is a relentless tease though, so it is for this month I have learned to exercise some uncharacteristic patience in the kitchen. All the things I look forward to getting my hands on most are rarely ready this early in the year so my dreams of sitting in the sun podding the new season’s baby broad beans and peas will have to wait a few weeks to become a reality.

The upside of waiting for all the other produce to spring forth is that I will be able to content myself with one of nature’s seasonal show ponies – English asparagus. I can’t stress strongly enough the difference between English asparagus and its pale imitators. The natural sweetness of locally-grown, freshly-cut asparagus shows up the foreign imports for what they are. If you are daft enough to be eating asparagus either side of it’s woefully short season then you can be sure it’s clocked up more air miles than your average trolley dolly and tastes like a blunt pencil.


The season for these green-tipped treasures is brief and lasts no longer than 8 weeks from the end of April to the end of June; so it goes without saying that we should make the most of it while we can. In fact, if you need any more convincing check the notorious 16th century erotic book ‘The Perfumed Garden’ where as well as all manner of jiggery-pokery, it extolls the aphrodisiac properties of a daily dish of “asparagus first boiled and then fried in fat with egg yolks and condiments”. Now, whilst I’m shouting from the roof tops about locally-grown and freshly-cut asparagus, it might seem strange that I’m about to tell you for my penchant for frozen peas. Few vegetables freeze well but frozen peas are something of a success story in the sub-zero department. Not only do they freeze brilliantly, but when cooked they are often far superior in flavour to their fresh cousins which can so often be a bit woody in taste and texture. As the famous ad campaign said, ‘they are picked and frozen within an hour’ which results in a freshness most of us could only hope for unless you are lucky enough to grow your own. I like to throw a handful of frozen peas in with other fresh ingredients to avoid feeling like a total cheat although I must say that frozen peas make a fantastically vivid, fresh-tasting risotto especially when you make it with a good homemade stock. My only other reservation with fresh peas is that I like the taste of them raw so much that by the time I’ve snaffled most of them during the podding process there are precious few left to do anything with. The frozen option does rather side step this slight problem. When your local greengrocer is eventually bursting at the seams with spring vegetables, a great way to celebrate the changing seasons is to cram as many of them as possible into one dish, such as in the recipe opposite. ‘Primavera’ simply means ‘spring’ in Italian and is typical of the kind of dish the Italians do best; fresh and clean-tasting, as well as comforting and substantial.


Farfalle Primavera  – Serves 6




500g farfalle pasta

250g each of asparagus tips, fresh peas

and fresh broad beans

1 small bunch flat leaf parsley, finely chopped

2 cloves garlic, finely chopped

200ml crème fraîche (half fat if you must)

120g parmesan, finely grated

Zest of 1 unwaxed lemon, finely grated

1 handful of  basil leaves, roughly torn

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 tablespoon non-virgin olive oil




Blanch the vegetables in a large pan of boiling salted water for 3 minutes. Then plunge into iced water and allow to cool.

Cook the pasta according to the packet instructions in plenty of rapidly-boiling salted water. 

Meanwhile, place the olive oil, parsley and garlic in a large heavy-based saucepan and gently heat. This will prevent the garlic from burning and spoiling the dish. When the garlic is sizzling, add the crème fraîche and bring to a gentle simmer before adding the vegetables.

When cooked, drain the pasta and add to the sauce. Stir well and at the very last minute add the basil leaves, half the parmesan and the lemon zest. Transfer to a warmed dish and serve with the remaining parmesan.

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