Now is the time to make the most of the best British pods and beans, and get a true taste of the summer, saysMark Hix

All we have to do is raid the freezer cabinet and we're guaranteed an endless supply of peas and beans any time of the year, as good as if they'd just been picked. But it's just not the same as buying fresh vegetables in season, however convenient and good frozen ones are. And with English pods and beans now at their best, this is the time to take advantage of them. Podding and shelling can be very therapeutic; but if time is short – and what should be a relaxing task just adds to the stress – supermarkets sell fresh peas and beans prepared and ready to cook. Saves space in the trolley and the fridge as well as time. So often a heap of pods leaves you with a handful of peas and beans rattling in the bottom of a pan. Buying without the bulky pods and an unknown number of duds inside means you'll have exactly the quantity you need.

All we have to do is raid the freezer cabinet and we're guaranteed an endless supply of peas and beans any time of the year, as good as if they'd just been picked. But it's just not the same as buying fresh vegetables in season, however convenient and good frozen ones are. And with English pods and beans now at their best, this is the time to take advantage of them. Podding and shelling can be very therapeutic; but if time is short – and what should be a relaxing task just adds to the stress – supermarkets sell fresh peas and beans prepared and ready to cook. Saves space in the trolley and the fridge as well as time. So often a heap of pods leaves you with a handful of peas and beans rattling in the bottom of a pan. Buying without the bulky pods and an unknown number of duds inside means you'll have exactly the quantity you need.

Ready-shelled veg seems a fairly recent innovation. I recall seeing old ladies in Catalan markets sitting on orange boxes shelling peas into polythene bags and thinking then that's the way forward. And now we have it.

Peas, beans and relatives of, can easily be grown at home. You just need something for them to climb up. I've even used a drainpipe when every other inch of the garden was accounted for. It seems a shame that most British gardeners go for runner beans. They're great picked at their peak when they're tender and stringless but a waste of time after that. We shouldn't be afraid to try other varieties like yellow beans, mangetout, borlotti and even the long Thai snake beans.

If you have absolutely no intention of growing your own, and given that the season is short, I haven't come across another vegetable that survives the freezing process as well as peas. I know I'm not alone in believing that these little green beauties are hard to beat. They're not just cheap and trouble-free, they're always sweet and tender. My small freezer at home is never without them, along with sliced porcini and frozen chopped herbs for impromptu dinners. Then you're ready to knock up pea and gorgonzola risotto or fettuccine with peas and bacon – with Cipriani pasta, the one I'd recommend.

Grilled chicken with Catalan broad beans and chorizo

Serves 4

Years ago I had broad beans cooked like this in a great restaurant called Els Tinars on the Costa Brava. I loved the simplicity of it, and I've used broad beans cooked this way in various forms ever since. They're great as a starter, as I've suggested here with barbecued chicken, or to go with fish such as swordfish or tuna. Cooking all the ingredients gently together means the subtly flavoured beans take on the spices from the chorizo. If you're barbecuing, have the beans waiting on the plate and when it's ready just lift the chicken off the grill and put on top. If you use good quality frozen broad beans the end result will be just as delicious. Small grilling chorizos are now available and they're perfect for this dish. Otherwise use a larger one cut up.

4 boneless breasts of chicken with the skin left on
A little oil for grilling
1 small onion, peeled and finely chopped
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed
40-60g small chorizo sausages or one larger one, halved lengthways and sliced
40ml extra virgin olive oil
1tsp tomato purée
250ml chicken stock (a cube will do)
500g shelled weight of broad beans or good quality frozen
2tsp chopped fresh coriander leaves
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Gently cook the onion and garlic with the chorizo in the olive oil until soft. Add the tomato purée and chicken stock. Bring to the boil, season with salt and pepper and simmer for 25 minutes. Meanwhile cook the broad beans for 5 minutes in boiling salted water, drain, add to the chorizo and onions and continue to simmer for a further 10 minutes. If the liquid has evaporated add more chicken stock or water. Re-season with salt and pepper if necessary, add the coriander and put to one side.

Meanwhile heat a ribbed griddle pan or barbecue and brush with oil. Season the chicken with salt and pepper and grill skin-side down for 5 minutes and then turn until cooked through. The beans can be served hot or at room temperature. Lay the chicken on top; eat with crusty bread.

Ham hock with green beans and mustard

Serves 4

My grandmother used to do it once a week, but no one seems to cook their own ham any more. It's easier to pick up a pack of the pre-sliced substitute for four times the price. Or is it? Ham hocks are almost given away, and are actually so simple to cook. If you're planning to make this dish, buy a couple of hocks and use the second one for delicious sandwiches. Or make this soup with the tasty stock that's left: when the hocks are cooked, strain off the stock and simmer it with some pre-soaked dried split peas for about 1 1/2 hours; blend half of it in a liquidiser and pour it back in the pan with some of the shredded hock trimmings.

1 small ham hock, weighing 300-400g, soaked in water overnight
1 small onion, peeled and roughly chopped
2 carrots, peeled, topped and tailed and left whole
10 peppercorns
2 cloves
1 bay leaf
4 cloves of garlic, peeled
150g French beans, topped and tailed

For the dressing

2 shallots, peeled and finely chopped
2tsp Dijon mustard
2tsp white wine vinegar
60ml olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Wash the ham hock in cold water then put it into a large pot with the onion, carrots, peppercorns, cloves, bay leaf and garlic. Cover with cold water, bring to the boil and simmer gently for 3-4 hours or until the meat comes away from the bone easily. Remove from the heat and leave to cool. If you're in a hurry remove from the water and run under a cold tap.

Put the shallots into a mixing bowl with the mustard and vinegar, then whisk in the olive oil and season with salt and pepper. If the dressing looks a little thick add a little of the ham cooking liquid or water.

Remove the ham from the bone while still warm and flake into small pieces discarding any fat. Meanwhile cook the beans in boiling salted water for about 5 minutes until tender then drain in a colander. Mix the beans with the dressing while still warm and season with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Arrange the beans on a plate and scatter the ham on top.

Cooking Fresh Peas

Fresh peas need to be cooked a little like new season carrots. They do not appreciate being boiled to death in plain old water. Bring enough water to the boil just to cover the peas, add a good knob of butter, a few grinds of black pepper, some salt and sugar – about a teaspoon of each for enough peas for four people. Then just simmer the peas without a lid until the liquid has almost disappeared (about 6-7 minutes) and the peas will have a nice shine from the butter and sugar.

Broad bean soup with goat's cheese

No need to pod the beans for this one. Just grab a packet from the freezer cabinet. Diced feta will also work well with this soup which can be served hot or cold.

1 small onion, peeled and roughly chopped
1 leek, roughly chopped and washed
1tbsp olive oil
500ml vegetable stock (Marigold powder works well)
400g shelled weight of fresh or frozen broad beans
A few sprigs of mint
Salt and freshly ground white pepper

To serve

2 large ripe tomatoes, skinned and seeded
A few sprigs of mint, leaves removed and chopped
1tbsp extra virgin olive oil
50g soft goat's cheese
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Gently cook the onion and leek in the olive oil without colouring until soft. Add the vegetable stock, bring to the boil and add the broad beans. Season with salt and pepper then simmer for 15 minutes.

Process in a blender until smooth then strain through a fine meshed sieve and return to a clean saucepan.

Meanwhile finely dice the tomato flesh and mix with the mint and olive oil, then season with salt and pepper.

Reheat the soup, or serve cold, with a spoonful of tomato relish and goat's cheese on top.

Minted pea purée

Regular diners will recognise this one. I developed it about 11 years ago when we first put fish and chips on the menu at Le Caprice.

Yes, it is posh mushy peas but it tastes good and everyone loves it. Try it with anything really: grilled meat or fish or chicken.

30g butter
Half a small onion, finely chopped
500g frozen peas
100ml vegetable stock
A few sprigs of mint, stalks removed
Salt and pepper

Heat half of the butter in a pan and cook the onion gently in it until it is soft. Add the peas, vegetable stock and mint leaves, season and simmer for 10–12 minutes. Blend in a food processor until smooth. Check and correct the seasoning. Before serving reheat the purée and stir in the remaining butter.

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