The seasonal cook

Nothing tastes better than fresh picked veg. And in May that means broad beans and asparagus from the large Victorian kitchen garden restored by Edinburgh restauranteurs Carina and Victor Contini.

Author: Carina Contini

Publisher: Frances Lincoln

I was born in Edinburgh of parents born in Scotland and Italy. I’ve lived in Edinburgh for the majority of my life and have only ever holidayed in Italy. I’m embarrassed when I speak Italian, but I cook like an Italian and eat like an Italian of the 1950s – just like my parents.

As a Scot I’ve been fortunate to have enjoyed the best of Scotland’s larder – the finest beef, lamb, shellfish, hardy root vegetables and delicate soft fruits. As an Italian, eating and cooking are in my blood. It was natural for me to be helping Mummy in the kitchen just as it was natural for her to nurture my culinary skills. Mummy taught me well to make the most of which this glorious country has to offer and to combine it with a little Italian know-how.

Since we restored a large kitchen garden just outside Edinburgh – in just 14 months – we have been eating seasonally as much as possible, not just at home but in the restaurants.

The challenge when you’re growing your own is what to do when you have a glut. Soup is a fantastic way to cope with abundance. You can use cheaper and less delicate ingredients to bulk out a soup but when you have quality and quantity, then the flavour can really shout out loud. Classy soups are always a winner, especially asparagus soups.

Two recipes for spring;

Asparagus & broad bean soup – serves 4

  • 250g (podded weight) broad beans
  • 1kg asparagus, washed
  • 100g unsalted butter
  • 2 onions, finely chopped
  • 1 leek, very finely chopped
  • 2 celery stalks, very finely chopped
  • salt
  • 1 litre light chicken stock or vegetable stock (optional)
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 200ml double cream
  • 50g Maisie’s Kebbuck, or similar semi-mature cow’s milk cheese, grated

Shell the broad beans and put them in a pan of boiling salted water. Simmer for 5–10 minutes, depending on the size of the beans, until tender. Remove from the heat, drain and cool with cold water from the tap. Remove the outer skin of the beans by slitting the top and pushing the beans out onto a plate. This takes time but it’s worth the effort. Set the beans aside. Prepare the asparagus by bending each stalk so the tougher bottom part snaps off. Chop the tender stalks into 2.5cm pieces and chop the top 2.5cm of the tougher bottom of the stalks very finely. Discard the rest of the tough stalks. Melt the butter in a large soup pan and add the onion, leek, celery and tough asparagus stalks. Cook until soft, taking time to let the flavours develop. Season with a good pinch of salt and add the stock or enough boiling water to cover. Simmer for about 20 minutes. Add the tender asparagus stalks and cook for another 10–15 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat. Save a few aparagus tips for the garnish and pass the rest of the soup through a mouli or sieve to remove any tough stalks. Check the seasoning. The asparagus can be bitter but a generous pinch of salt and pepper will counteract this. Return the soup to the pan, add the broad beans, saving a few for the garnish, and the cream. Heat through gently. Serve hot with some freshly grated cheese sprinkled on top (I love Maisie’s Kebbuck because of its texture, delicate flavour and the way it melts). Garnish with the reserved asparagus tips and broad beans.

Broad bean, mint & potato salad serves 4

  • 500g new-season potatoes (such as Royal Kidneys or Jersey Royals)
  • salt
  • 250g new-season broad beans, podded weight, blanched and skinned
  • 50g mint leaves
  • 25g garlic chives, finely chopped
  • 3–4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • freshly ground black pepper

Wash the unpeeled potatoes and put in a pan with salt and cold water to cover. Bring to the boil, then reduce the heat and simmer until tender. Drain well and leave to cool. When cool enough to handle, slice thickly onto a large serving platter. Scatter the broad beans, mint and garlic chives on top. Dress with olive oil and season with a little salt and plenty of black pepper.

Extracted from Carina Contini’s Kitchen Garden Cookbook: A Year of Italian Scots Recipes by Carina Contini. Published by Frances Lincoln, £25.