I felt very strange last week and for a moment genuinely perplexed. We received a review in a newspaper which said, among other things, that perhaps one day, if I was lucky, I would find myself cooking in a restaurant in the West End.
The reviewer imagined that I wouldn't want to stay at Petersham for very much longer, that the West End would lure me in with an offer of bigger, better things. That confused me because I am so deeply and profoundly happy here. For me, Petersham is the ultimate. Every single day I feel like I have died and gone to heaven.
Sometimes it feels that everybody pays attention to me because I'm the one who does the cooking, but I certainly could not run this restaurant on my own. And there are three women in particular, who are as important to the running of the place as myself. It would in no way be such an inspirational and exciting place to work without them. (omega)
There's the lovely Lucy Boyd who runs the vegetable garden, Wendy Fogarty who tirelessly sources produce for us and organises our events, and my friend Rachel Lewis who manages the restaurant. I've worked with Rachel for more than eight years and I can't think of anyone in the world I'd rather have here running the front. She's gentle, discreet and reserved; sometimes she doesn't suffer fools gladly, but she's perfect for Petersham.
Well, she's had a really hard time lately from this particular reviewer for being unable to cater to his requirements - in this case, a table for eight to seat him and one friend on a sold-out Sunday lunch.
For those who have never been here, Petersham is a little higgledy-piggledy, every table is different, so moving things around often isn't possible. We don't have VIP tables here, either. Well-known people eat here all the time knowing they're not going to get fawned and fussed over by Rachel. In fact, I think that could be one of the reasons why they come. So forgive me if this seems like a strange introduction to my recipes, but this week it seemed especially important for me to acknowledge my friends and colleagues who put in so much work to make this place as magical as it is.
With that said, I should probably get round to talking about food, and this week it's borlotti beans. Lucy planted them in the spring and we usually pick them around now. As I write they're almost ready - still slightly green yet with a streaky red and cream skin underneath. Once podded, the colours of the beans inside are the exact opposite colourway to their pods. I think they're the most beautiful of all pulses - they remind me of Missoni fabric. But then, once cooked, the strangest thing happens. They become a dull mousey brown. But what they lack in beauty is made up for in taste as they are delicious.
This year Rachel, Wendy, Lucy and I so loved watching them, and all our other vegetables grow. It's obvious why I'm happy here. Compared to this, what appeal could the West End possibly hold? s
Skye Gyngell is head chef at Petersham Nurseries, Church Lane, off Petersham Road, Richmond, Surrey, tel: 020 8605 3627
Slow-cooked borlotti with garlic, tomato and sage
I used to cook borlotti with water and herbs on the stove but Steve, who works in our kitchen, showed us how to cook them this way. This is far better: the borlotti absorb the oil and have a really beautiful flavour.
500g/1lb fresh borlotti, shelled
100ml/31/2fl oz extra-virgin olive oil
Water to cover
1 bulb garlic, cut in half
2 ripe tomatoes, roughly chopped
1 small bunch sage
A good pinch of sea-salt
Heat the oven to 190C/375F/Gas5. Place the borlotti in a baking dish. Drizzle over the olive oil and pour over the water to cover. Add the garlic, tomatoes and sage, sprinkle over the salt, cover with foil and place in the oven. Cook for 45 minutes or until the beans are tender to the bite. These are delicious with grilled lamb or white fish such as turbot.
Clams with Fino sherry, fennel and borlotti beans
I really like this dish. It has a deep, strong, no-nonsense flavour - perfect to drag bread through.
2tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
2 fennel bulbs
2 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
The juice of half a lemon
200ml/7fl oz Fino sherry
200g/7oz cooked borlotti beans (see recipe above)
A few fennel fronds for garnish
Sea-salt and black pepper to taste
Start by picking over the clams, discarding any damaged or broken ones. If they are slightly open, squeeze gently closed. Rinse well under cool running water and set aside.
Remove the fibrous outer leaves and the fronds from the fennel and reserve to use as a garnish. Chop the fennel into rough cubes. Place a pan over the heat and pour in the oil. When it's warm, add the fennel and season, turn down the heat and sweat until soft - around 5 minutes. Add the clams, garlic, sherry and lemon. Put the lid on and cook over a high heat for 3 minutes. Once the clams open, add the borlotti and warm. Taste for seasoning. It may not need salt but I would suggest a good amount of pepper. Pour into soup plates, garnish with the fennel fronds and serve with some really good, crusty bread.
Veal with tomatoes, borlotti and rosemary
1kg/2lb organic English veal shoulder
1tbsp olive oil
1 large yellow onion, peeled and sliced
4 ripe peeled tomatoes, roughly chopped (or 1 tin of good-quality tinned tomatoes)
3 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
4 fresh bay leaves
120ml/4fl oz dry white wine
The peel of 1 lemon
1 medium bunch of rosemary
1 pint of (preferably homemade) chicken stock
560g/18oz cooked borlotti beans (see above)
Sea-salt and black pepper
Heat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas4. Trim the veal and slice into 5cm (2in) pieces and season generously. Next, warm the oil in a casserole dish. Brown the veal in batches (when you brown meat, never overcrowd the pan). Once all the meat is browned, add the onion, turn the heat down and sweat until soft.
Next, add the tomatoes, chopped garlic, bay leaves, wine, lemon peel and rosemary. Turn the heat up until the wine begins to bubble, add the stock and bring back to the boil. Return the meat to the pan and put the lid on and place in the oven. Slow-cook in the oven for about an hour. Remove and add the borlotti. Taste for seasoning - the meat should be soft and almost falling apart. Serve with a simple salad. (omega)
Bright lights chard, borlotti, buffalo mozzarella and lemon oil
150g/5oz bright light chard (if you can't find this, use regular chard)
4 buffalo mozzarella, torn with your hands
2tbsp crème fraîche
280g/9oz cooked borlotti beans (see above)
60ml/2fl oz lemon oil
Sea-salt and black pepper
I love flavoured oils, but not the shop-bought ones. We flavour our own here at Petersham. All you have to do is warm the oil very, very gently on the stove (it should never go above blood temperature) then add the thing you wish to flavour it with - in this case the peel of one lemon. Remove from the stove and leave it to cool.
Next, place the crème fraîche in a bowl. Add the mozzarella and a tablespoon of oil. Season and combine. Divide the mozzarella among four plates. Dress the chard with half of the remaining oil. Drape the chard over the mozzarella. Divide the borlotti among each, drizzle over the remaining lemon oil and serve.
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