Check out the irony here. I am heading off to South West France to cook for a client over the next Bank Holiday weekend. It’s an amazing adventure and one I have been part off for the last 10 years only missing one year due to the ‘pink’ one arriving on the scene. The event itself is a 3 day music festival set in the magical surroundings of the Queille Chateau. The Chateau perches proudly on a huge rock clad in the sweetest smelling ice pink roses, a moat runs around the outside, the snow-clad Pyrenees jut out proudly on the horizon. This is wild, rural France, steeped in history, breathtakingly beautiful, extremely lush and in May, a vivid brilliant green. Myself and a team of 3 other cooks arrive on the Wednesday and cook frantically for 5 days culminating in 4 major eating events catering for 230 people at each one. Meantime back at home Mr.P has been left with the ‘little people’, and here the irony lies. In an attempt to gather some support for his weekend with the wee darlings he now seems to be hosting a house party for 12, and that is quite a few mouths to feed. So no guesses what I am doing in a small attempt to make life a little easier, a smattering of preparation and freezer filling, to keep the wolves at bay.
Crab lasagne, veal casserole, sausage ragu are a just a few numbers that have been created to date, so the menu is shaping up and as is the kitchen garden, maybe in time for filling in the gaps. I am not sure there will be enough asparagus to feed the gang but certainly Mr.P and I have been relishing each homegrown spear. The broad beans are looking good but still some distance off, various different lettuces are powering ahead yet what with all this rain the slugs will be in hot pursuit. Rhubarb is in pole position, though I fear this will not be that popular to the ‘bright young things’ coming to stay. What ever your likes or dislikes there is no denying summer vegetables and fruit are finally edging onto the menu, and nothing gets a cook more excited than fresh broad beans, English asparagus, home grown herbs and heritage tomatoes.
I adore the way that the most delicate, simple salads can be created in a moment, or two! Not only tasting fresh, healthy and clean but glistening with color and life, invigorating to look at and to eat, they boldly announce ‘summer is on the way’. A handful of tomatoes, finely sliced, dressed with olive oil, chopped chives and a splash of white balsamic is classic food porn to my greedy eye. Steamed asparagus with a little butter, a gulls egg and celery salt, Friday night heaven. It is a totally different type of eating, and indeed cooking for that matter. My ‘Le Creuset’, now happily redundant for a few months, has been pushed to the back of the cupboard, while the ‘Puglian’ salad bowls have been dusted down and are now in daily use. All of which is preparing me rather well for my trip to ‘Queille’.
I finished my vegetable order for Toulouse market yesterday, consolidated the baguette order, and have just about completed my ‘to do’ lists, which are scarily long. Yet before I board my flight and amongst all of the gorgeous summer produce that I am getting thoroughly over excited about here, there is a rather important fairy party taking place for the ‘pink one’. At the enviable age of ’2′, I doubt her tea will include, rhubarb, broad beans, asparagus or gulls eggs; no, no, no; macaroons, meringues, fairy dust, edible wands and lots of sweets is on this weekends menu! I must get to grips with the matter in hand but all I can think of is ‘Mavis the Fairy’ from ‘Willow the Wisp’!
A May Salad ; Asparagus, broad beans and fresh goat’s cheese
1 bunch of English asparagus, woody ends broken off
250 gms of broad beans, podded
1 packet of Rosary Ash Goats cheese or similar fresh goats cheese ( you will only need to use half, about 50gms)
1 -2 handfuls of watercress and rocket
1/2 lemon – juiced
3 tablespoons of olive oil
Pinch of sugar, Maldon sea salt and freshly ground pepper
If you want a little change from lashings of butter (debatable) with your asparagus, this is a delicious, timely alternative. Fresh goat’s cheese is allegedly at its best now, so why not team it with those divine, tender spears and double podded broad beans to make a zesty super duper ‘seasonal’ salad. A little lemon and olive oil dressing and ‘job done’, quite yummy and so easy, it’s embarrassing.
That said, I know double podding beans is a labour of love. Actually I find it quite therapeutic, and curiously the ‘pink’ one loves it too, as soon as she sees them, she dives in, clutching the pods in her chubby little puds. Once podded, a quick blanch for a few minutes, then a plunge into cold water, finally the brilliant green of these little gems is revealed as the inner jacket is unpeeled. Is it worth it? Of course. Would I do it for a dinner for 50, not a chance!
The key with this salad is that it is all rather last minute, so be prepared.
1. Pod the broad beans, blanch them and then take off their inner jackets.
2. Whisk the lemon juice, olive oil, sugar, salt and pepper together to make the dressing.
3. Fill the a saucepan steamer with boiling water, put the steamer in with the lid on, when steam starts to billow out the sides, add your asparagus spears, and steam until just tender. The asparagus will carry on cooking once you have taken them off the heat, so try to catch them before they lose their unique bite.
4. Crumble the goats cheese over the asparagus tossing in a little olive oil, and the broad beans, serve on a handful of watercress or rocket with a drizzle of lemon dressing. The goats cheese will begin to melt slightly, which is rather good. Serve immediately.