‘Lord Leicester’, ‘Tall Telephone’, ‘Easy Peasy’, ‘Blue Bantam Dwarf’, ‘Mr Big’, ‘Kelvedon Wonder’, ‘Little Marvel’: all names of peas, and another reminder of how seed catalogues bring joy – especially if you don’t have a garden and idealise the day that you do. Italian catalogues also satisfy, with pea varieties including ‘Telephone Nain’, although they seem to have shorter descriptions and details. I don’t just want good names; I want to know the productivity and performance of ‘Mr Big’, if ‘Television’ needs sturdy supports, if ‘Little Marvel’ produces large amounts of peas crammed in tight pods.
The best catalogue of all to get lost in is the Real Seeds company’s, for their descriptions and tips, and their customer testimonials. This one in particular: “I just wanted to say how magnificent your ‘Champion of England’ peas are – they are going off like a rocket in my garden, so vigorous and healthy with their massive leaves, already up to 75cm, even here in Yorkshire. They are knocking the ‘Hurst Green Shaft’ into a cocked hat, and I wish I’d planted them on the allotment to impress everyone instead of in the garden where only I can see them!”
Dear customer-who-left-this testimonial: thank you, your words are internet endorphins in the face of so much swill. Just the thought of your champions going off like rockets in your Yorkshire garden makes me happy. As does the description of the ‘Bijou’, with its huge, edible pods that children like to munch straight off the plant.
Happy and sad, knowing I probably won’t get to munch peas straight off my mum’s pea plant teepee this year, or walk into her kitchen for a noseful of sweet pea scent, or eat any English peas, or new potatoes, asparagus, strawberries, or green gooseberries, for that matter. Thankfully, Rome and England, and plenty of other places besides, share more ingredients than differences, and there are swell peas here, too. I think the first bag of peas must be eaten straight from the bag, like peanuts, only faster, then, after that, with butter and mint, then with braised artichokes, or rings of squid and, after that, in risotto.
I have written about spring risotto before; however, today’s version, adapted from Oretta Zanini de Vita’s book about the food of Rome and Lazio, includes fresh tomato. Not so much as to take over, but enough to make it bright. I have also included this recipe because the method is new to me: it’s not quite a no-stir, but certainly a low-stir risotto, which I was interested to try. As suspected, it doesn’t make for such creamy or wavy risotto – also because it includes less cheese and butter – but I found it to be a great alternative method, and a lovely lunch.
Whether you follow the recipe, or adjust and stir, add the peas a few minutes before the end of the rice cooking time. In this way, your ‘Lord Leicesters’, ‘Champion of England’ peas or just the wonders that are Birds Eye stay bright green and firm, then pop like rockets in your mouth and bring joy.
Risotto with spring vegetables – risotto alla ciociara
Prep 10 min
Cook 30 min
1 small onion, peeled and finely diced
3 tbsp olive oil
1 small courgette, diced finely
1 artichoke, trimmed and thinly sliced (optional)
200g broad beans
3 or 4 tomatoes, tinned or fresh, peeled and roughly chopped
300g risotto rice (carnaroli, arborio or vialone nano)
1 small glass white wine
1.2 litres lightly salted water or light broth
1 tbsp chopped parsley
3 tbsp grated parmesan
In a large, heavy-based pan over a medium-low heat, gently fry the onion in the butter and olive oil with a pinch of salt. After two minutes, add the courgette, artichokes and broad beans, cook for another few minutes, then add the tomatoes and simmer for five minutes.
Add the rice, stir, turn up the heat and add the wine. Leave it to sizzle for a minute, then add the water or broth. Make sure everything is simmering gently, then cover and leave to cook for 15-20 minutes, until the rice is tender – lift the lid every now and then, to give it a lively stir and add a bit more water, if needed – and, after 12 minutes, add the peas.
Remove the pan from the heat, wait 30 seconds, then beat in the parmesan and parsley, and serve.