Imagine a French summer garden filled with tall cypress trees and blooms of the brightest hues with their faces turned to the sun. A weathered white dovecote is home to a pair of doves that coo above the thousands of geranium flowers – pink, white and red – that tumble over the edges of old terracotta. The children laugh as they chase one another with jugs of ice cold water, the occasional one hitting its target with such a playful violence that promises of a certain and terrible revenge temporarily shatter the peace. A modest patch of the garden has been set aside for the cultivation of kitchen herbs, vegetables and fruits, all ripe for the picking. I pull up little bunches of sweet potatoes that leave the earth with a soft crack that somehow suggests that they wanted to stay a while longer. There are also fine green beans and luscious peas ready for harvesting as well as fragrant herbs – delicate chervil and vibrant mint, the perfect highlights to a classic early summer salad. A white metal table sits beside the kitchen door under the grapevines that were planted many years ago rewarding us now with much needed shade from the June sun. A celebratory lunch is planned for friends that have been absent since early spring and, working noisily together, we prepare a feast to share. And there we sat throughout the hotly still afternoon as it slowly journeyed towards the balmy evening, our animated conversation spilling out across the garden to the vineyards beyond. This is the garden salad that I made that day, this version including a few asparagus spears which I had left over from last week’s ‘Supper Club’.
500g young salad potatoes, scrubbed and halved
500g of peas in their pods
A small bunch of asparagus spears
200g fine green beans, trimmed
A handful of slivered almonds
2 sprigs of fresh mint, leaves picked and finely chopped
2 springs of fresh chervil, leaves picked
For the vinaigrette:
1 lemon, zested and juiced
1 tsp of unrefined golden caster sugar
Half tsp of Dijon mustard
4 tbsp of extra-virgin olive oil
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper, to your taste
How I make it
Remove the peas from their pods and set aside.
Place the potatoes in a medium pan, add plenty of salt and cover with water. Bring to the boil and then turn down the heat, partially cover and allow to simmer until they are cooked through (around 10-15 minutes depending upon their size). Drain and set aside.
Fill the same pan with water, add plenty of salt and bring to the boil. Add the asparagus spears and the green beans and simmer for three minutes. Then add the peas and allow them to simmer for a couple more minutes. Drain and set aside.
Toast the almonds until they are golden brown and set aside.
Meanwhile, make the vinaigrette by gently combining all the ingredients (except the lemon zest) with a hand whisk and seasoning to your taste.
Gently toss the vegetables in the vinaigrette, season to your taste and turn out onto a pretty plate. Garnish with the toasted almonds, the mint, lemon zest and the chervil.