Every day now we are reaping the rewards of the greenhouse and having fresh and green summer veg for our lunch. The harvesting itself is not necessarily from the greenhouse right now – though there is a little of that as the pots of strawberries that we put in there to protect them from the birds are currently ripening unmolested – but this is the time that those crops that started in the greenhouse in spring and were then planted outside when they had no more need for shelter are ripening and coming into their own. Chief among those are the courgettes. We have two plants, and it is more than enough. We pick them little, even just two inches long sometimes, sometimes just an inch longer, and often with their flowers still attached and fresh. We also harvest all of the male flowers that we spot. Courgette plants produce both male and female flowers, and you can tell the difference by the bulges: look behind a female flower and you will see the bulge of the young courgette, look behind a male one and it is attached to a straight stem. The male flowers will never turn into courgettes, so you may as well harvest and eat them when you spot them.
The broad beans were sown in the greenhouse in early spring and planted out into my new vegetable beds in late spring, and they grew well and have been fattening up nicely. Our vegetable garden is small now that we have given up our allotment, and it is making me realise just how many broad bean plants you need to grow in order to get a handful…a lot! But they are worth the sacrifice of space I think. They are never going to keep our bellies full but a small handful double podded and thrown into a dish is so good that I will no doubt give up at least as much space and maybe more next year. The peas are the final part in this green trinity and they are the only part that have never spent any time in the greenhouse, as I sowed them direct in spring as soon as the beds were ready. This is the most successful I have ever been with peas – I just couldn’t seem to grow them at all at the allotment – and I credit my success with a cage of chicken wire around the base as they were taking off. This protected them from marauding birds and allowed them to get big and strong before they could reach them, and since then they have romped away happily.
So for now our lunch of choice comprises these three: peas and broad beans plus baby courgettes and their flowers. I get everything ready to cook first, which takes some time, dropping the broad beans into boiling water for a few minutes and then into cold water to blanch, before popping each of them out of their individual pods; reaching into the depths of each flower to remove their stamens and stigmas, and gently washing off any stray aphids; podding the peas and slicing the tiny courgettes into sloping rounds. I heat up a big knob of butter and drop in some garlic and the courgette rounds. When they are starting to show a little colour in go the peas and flowers, and then – just to warm through – the double podded broad beans. Once all is cooked I squeeze over the juice of half a lemon, add a little torn mint, scatter with plenty of sea salt flakes and grind on some pepper. I spoon the whole thing into a big bowl and tear a ball of mozzarella over it, spoon over the juices from the pan and eat with hunks of bread to mop everything up. There isn’t a finer summer lunch, and it mostly is all down to the greenhouse.