Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s River Cottage restaurant is just one of the restaurants featured in Cinead McTernan’s Kitchen Garden Experts: Twenty Celebrated Chefs and Their Head Gardeners. McTernan writes, “At River Cottage, [Head Chef Gill Meller] likes to place bowls of peas in the pod down the supper tables, carefully arranged next to bowls of salty pork crackling. This is more of an assembly than a recipe.”
Call it an assembly or a recipe, here’s a simple way to celebrate the sweetness of the homegrown pea:
Photography by Jason Ingram.
Above: River Cottage is so much more than a television program, many cookbooks, and a restaurant (although it is all of the above). The original rented cottage in Dorset (by the river), has been supplanted by River Cottage HQ, in nearby Devon. The message of its founder, food campaigner Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, was and still is: stop depending on the supermarket.
Above: Enter, freshly picked and podded garden peas.
Peas with Ham and Cheese
Serves 2-3 as a starter
For the labneh:
1 3/4 pints plain, whole milk yogurt
1 tsp fine sea salt
Handfuls of podded garden peas
8 slices of good quality, air-dried ham
Handful of tender pea tops, plus any with nice flowers
12-16 small mint leaves
A few small nasturtium leaves
Extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper
Toasted sourdough bread
For the labneh, put the yogurt in a bowl, add the salt and mix well. Line a sieve with a thin cotton cloth and place it over the bowl. Spoon the yogurt into the muslin, then flip the sides over the yogurt to enclose. Leave in the refrigerator for from 24 to 48 hours. Turn over every now and then so the liquid drains evenly. The yogurt should resemble a soft cheese.
To serve, add peas to slightly salted boiling water for 1-2 minutes. Drain and refresh in iced water to stop the cooking process and retain the fresh green color. Divide the slices of ham between four plates, followed by a spoonful of labneh. Scatter over the peas, their tops and flowers, the mint, and nasturtium leaves. Trickle with good olive oil. Season and serve with toasted sourdough bread.
For more plot to plate ideas, see Required Reading: Kitchen Garden Experts.