This extract from the River Cafe Classic Italian cookbook offers three delicious Italian ways with peas, beans and courgette flowers
Peas with proscuitto
Peas and prosciutto, sweet and salty, is a classic combination. We prefer to add the prosciutto at the end when the peas are lukewarm, so that it stays soft.
2kg fresh peas in pods
3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil, plus extra for drizzling
3 garlic cloves, peeled and thinly sliced
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 thin slices of prosciutto
2 tbsp finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
Shell the peas. In a large, thick-bottomed frying pan, heat the olive oil, add the garlic, and fry until it is soft but not brown. Add the peas to the oil and season with salt and pepper. Stir to coat the peas in the oil and garlic, then turn down the heat. Cover the pan and cook until the peas are soft; this will take 15–20 minutes, depending on the freshness of the peas. You may need to add a tablespoon of water from time to time, but only to moisten the pan.
Remove from the heat and put the peas on to a large plate. Leave them to cool for a bit, then tear the prosciutto into strips and stir into the peas with the parsley. Drizzle with olive oil and serve at room temperature.
Deep-fried zucchini flowers
The zucchini flowers with their long stems are the male flower of the plant. The female flowers are attached to the zucchini fruit and are not traditionally used in a fritto. Pumpkin plants have similar flowers and are just as good, although the flowers are more delicate and need to be used the day they are picked.
The tender shoots and flowers of the common mallow are as good as zucchini flowers, as are the flowers and budding shoots of the marigold. We have eaten these wild flowers in a fritto misto in the delightful restaurant Da Delfino in Artimino, just outside Florence, in the springtime when they grow among the nearby olive groves.
This batter recipe is suitable for coating vegetables such as zucchini and their flowers, porcini slices, sage branches and aubergines, but not for artichokes or fish as it is too thick.
For the batter:
300g Tipo '00' flour
100ml extra virgin olive oil
4 large free-range organic egg whites
1 tsp sea salt
For the frying:
24 zucchini flowers
750ml sunflower oil
Sieve the flour into a medium-sized mixing bowl, make a well in the centre, pour in the olive oil and carefully stir, starting in the centre, to slowly combine the flour into the oil, making a thick paste.
Loosen this mixture with a little warm water, slowly stirring all the time and adding more water until you have a smooth batter, the consistency of thick double cream. Add the sea salt and leave for a minimum of half an hour. At this stage, the mixture will keep for a day or overnight.
To prepare the flowers, remove the stamens from the centre and the green sepals from the base of each flower. Keep the stalks attached.
Use a large deep frying pan and pour in 1cm of sunflower oil. Heat the oil until hot, about 180C. Drop a little batter into the oil to test; it should become golden within a few seconds.
Dip the flowers – holding them by the stalks – into the batter. Tap off any excess batter on the side of the bowl and place them, one at a time, into the hot oil. Do this in batches, turning the flowers over in the oil as they become golden – you may need to add extra oil, so try to keep it at a constant temperature. Remove the flowers after about two to four minutes, when crisp, and drain on kitchen paper. Scatter with sea salt and eat immediately.
Chickpeas with rosemary and garlic
There is no exact recipe for cooking dried beans and chickpeas – it depends on freshness, quality and size. Generally, the guidelines are to soak the beans overnight and to cook them the following day, in water with fresh herbs and garlic but no salt. Check the harvest date when buying dried beans and chickpeas. They should not be older than nine months.
Chickpeas are harvested in the late summer and dried for use from autumn until spring. The best chickpeas to buy are always the new season's, which will cook in 35–45 minutes. Old chickpeas can take up to an hour.
250g dried chickpeas
2 medium to large potatoes, peeled
1 head of garlic
3 large sprigs of fresh rosemary
Extra virgin olive oil
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Soak the chickpeas for 24 hours before cooking. Add one peeled potato to the soaking chickpeas – the potato starch will aid the process and help soften the skins.
Drain the chickpeas, discarding the potato, and place in a thick-bottomed pan. Cover with cold water, and add the second potato, peeled and cut into four pieces, and half the unpeeled head of garlic, in one piece. Wind and tie some thin string around one of the rosemary sprigs to contain the needles, and add to the pan. Bring to the boil and simmer gently for up to 45 minutes, or until the chickpeas are soft and buttery in texture. Season the water after the chickpeas are cooked. Do not drain the chickpeas – keep them in their cooking liquid.
Heat four tablespoons of olive oil and add the remaining garlic cloves, in their skins, and the rest of the rosemary. Gently fry until the garlic is crisp and the oil has taken up the flavour of the rosemary.
Drain the chickpeas, discarding the garlic and the tied-up rosemary sprig. Add the chickpeas to the flavoured oil, and stir to heat and combine the flavours. Season with sea salt and black pepper and serve warm.
These are three very interesting dishes picked up whilst reading up on the news from an extract courtesy of " The River Cafe Classic Italian Cookbook and a big thank you to the Guardian News Paper for letting me share this with you all. CJ
" The Roving Giraffe News Report " provided through Ace News Service