Our kitchen garden is looking fabulous. Green shoots and flowers are everywhere. When I open the gate and step into the plot, despite the trials and tribulations of the day, a weight is lifted and I start to smile.
I have another big reason to be happy. After many years of planning the Kitchen Garden Cookbook, it’s on general release. I still can’t quite believe it has actually happened. More than 150 recipes, all inspired by my Italian Scots roots, some fun family stories, a celebration of many of our favourite suppliers and, at the heart of the book, the story of the garden.
It is a thank you to my family, my friends and our suppliers, without whom we simply couldn’t do what we do. The book is also packed with great tips about produce. The biggest gift our garden has brought is the knowledge of growing. The project has given our teams in the restaurants access to ingredients they would never be able to get without the garden. Early shoots, flowers and, of course, all the fruit and vegetables now guide what we do. The garden is beautiful to look at, but the point of it is to help us all eat well.
As a novice gardener I was unaware of how much could actually be grown in Scotland. Our gardeners have tremendous skill, which is half the battle, but the varieties and quality of produce such as fennel, beetroot, chard, garlic, courgettes, apples and cherries have thrilled us.
This season is probably my most special. Broad beans, peas and asparagus are at their best and without a doubt they are my favourite greens, so here are some recipes to help you share my passion.
2 slices black pudding, about 1cm thick
1 small red chilli, deseeded and very finely chopped
50g pea shoots, tough stalks removed
50g coriander leaves, finely chopped
100g White Lanark cheese
2 wedges lime
1 sprig of wild garlic
1 tsp coriande seeds
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
3-4 tbsp cold-pressed rapeseed oil
3 tbsp apple vinegar
80g penne rigate per person for a main course, or 40g for a starter
50g unsalted butter
½ very small onion, finely chopped
100g smoked streaky bacon, cut into small squares
250ml double cream
100g new-season broad
beans, podded weight, blanched
50g peas, podded weight
50g Parmigiano Reggiano, very finely grated, plus extra to garnish
small handful of mixed mint leaves and flat-leaf parsley leaves,
very finely chopped
freshly ground black pepper
140ml double cream
1 tsp good vanilla extract
1 tsp espresso coffee
225g 55 per cent cocoa Valrhona dark chocolate
premium-quality cocoa powder, for dusting
PEA SHOOT, WHITE LANARK AND BLACK PUDDING SALAD
I love pea shoots. They’re readily available in shops, but are so easy and cheap to grow. This recipe is an ideal dinner party starter as it’s really tasty and so easy to make.
1 Preheat the oven to 180C/Gas Mark 4.
2 Chop the black pudding into cubes and fry in the extra virgin olive oil until crispy. It will crumble but this doesn’t matter. Place on a baking tray and dry in the preheated oven until the rest of the dish is ready.
3 To make the dressing, cream the garlic and salt together with a pestle and mortar. Fold in the coriander leaves and 3 tablespoons of the rapeseed oil, then add the vinegar to make the mixture into a loose paste. Fold in the chilli and coriander seeds and add the rest of the oil to make the dressing liquid. Set aside.
4 Scatter the pea shoots in the middle of a large shallow bowl and crumble the White Lanark on top. Add the fried black pudding, then drizzle with the dressing. Serve with wedges of lime.
BROAD BEAN, PEA AND HAM PASTA
Early on in the season it’s not essential to double-pod broad beans, but for me it’s a must. Add some asparagus tips to this dish if you want it to be more luxurious. Creamy pasta for a Saturday night supper – what could be better!
Serves 2 as a main course
or 4 as a starter
1 Put the pasta in a large pan of boiling salted water and cook until al dente.
2 Meanwhile, make the sauce. Put the butter in a pan over a medium heat and fry the onion until very soft and translucent. Add the bacon and fry until crispy. Add the cream and, as it starts to thicken, add the broad beans, peas, Parmigiano Reggiano and chopped herbs. Season with salt and plenty of pepper.
3 Cook until the cream has thickened and become glossy. If it looks too thick, don’t worry about adding a little more cream.
4 Drain the pasta, reserving a little of the pasta water. If you think the sauce needs to be thinned, add some of the pasta water. Serve immediately, sprinkled with more freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano.
CHOCOLATE AND VANILLA TRUFFLES
This is a variation of a chocolate and lavender recipe from the new book. The children love making these for special occasions.
Fills a 350g gift box
1 Put the cream, vanilla and coffee in a pan over a low heat, then remove from the hob when the cream begins to steam but before it boils.
2 Meanwhile, break up the chocolate into very small pieces and place in a heatproof glass bowl over a bain-marie. Do not let the simmering water touch the bottom of the bowl and do not use a metal bowl, as it will taint the flavour of the chocolate.
3 Strain the cream into a clean pan and put it back over a low heat but, again, do not let it boil. When the cream is hot, pour it over the chocolate. Stir slowly until the chocolate has melted. Leave to cool then chill until the mixture is cool enough to handle – about 30 minutes.
4 Using a dessert spoon, shape the mixture into balls, then roll them in cocoa powder. Refrigerate for a few hours and enjoy on the day.
Carina Contini’s Kitchen Garden Cookbook is out now, £25, Frances Lincoln