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Spring on a Plate

by Julius Roberts from The Farm Table

This verdant and beautifully-presented recipe from Julius Roberts is a celebration of spring's hero produce: broad beans, peas, asparagus, gem lettuce and fresh herbs, brought together with zingy lemon and creamy ricotta.

From the book

Julius Roberts

Introduction

This is so good I could eat it every day. Light, zingy, fresh and healthy, this dish is one of my late spring highlights. It’s based on vignarola, an Italian classic of braised spring vegetables that usually revolves around artichokes. I find young artichokes tricky to find in Dorset, so I’ve gone with the things I grow and love at this time of year: peas, asparagus, broad beans, gem lettuce and herbs. This dish involves braising; a technique of wet frying, where things are kept steamy and juicy but not so wet they get soggy. I do this with a bottle of white wine next to the pan, adding a little splash every now and then to stop things from drying out, but you can use water if you prefer. Whatever you use, the key is little splashes. Keep tasting and checking the textures as you go until each individual element is cooked to perfection. The trick to this is all in the well-timed dance of ingredients into the pan.

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Ingredients

800g broad beans, podded to yield about 250g
5 tbsp olive oil
1 large brown onion, finely diced
3 cloves of garlic, finely sliced
1 bunch (about 250g) of asparagus, tips left whole, woody ends removed and stalks cut into chunky rounds
A bottle of white wine (you won’t need all of it)
200g frozen peas (or 400g fresh peas)
1 gem lettuce, roughly chopped
A bunch of fresh mint and basil, finely chopped
2 unwaxed lemons
250g ricotta

Method

Bring a pan of water to the boil, season it well and chuck in the broad beans. Cook for just a few minutes, then drain and immediately plunge into ice-cold water to stop them cooking further. Pinch the shells and pop out the lovely green beans.

Pour the olive oil into a wide saucepan, add the onion and garlic, season well with a pinch of salt and cook for 10 minutes or so, being careful not to colour the garlic, until the onion is sweet and tender. Add the asparagus with a little splash of wine. Keep stirring and cooking for a few minutes, until the asparagus is nearly but not quite tender, then add the peas. Again, season as you go and add a splash of wine here and there to keep the pan juicy. Don’t overdo it, you want to keep the pan from drying out but you don’t want it too wet either. Keep tasting as you go and check that the texture of the veg feels right.

The peas won’t take long, so keep trying until they’re ready. At this point, add the lettuce – you want it to gently collapse but still retain a nice crunch. Turn the heat off just before the lettuce is ready, as the residual heat will continue to cook things further.

Add the broad beans and most of the herbs (holding back some for serving). Grate in the zest of one lemon, stir, then have a taste and adjust the seasoning as necessary.

Finally, put the ricotta into a bowl and whisk well until it becomes light and fluffy. Grate in the zest of the second lemon, add a pinch of salt and the juice of half a lemon. Whisk to combine, then taste to check the seasoning.

Spoon a bit of the ricotta on to each plate and spread it slightly, then top with the warm vignarola and finish with a drizzle of olive oil, some more herbs and a squeeze of lemon. I like to serve this with crisp toasts rubbed with garlic, but it is magic in an omelette or with fish or lamb.

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From the book: The Farm Table

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