It's kind of a soup. It's sort of a salad. From certain angles it could even be seen as an open-faced sandwich. But one thing's for sure — this delicious dish is a big bowl of summer freshness that makes a perfect mid-year supper.
Now I love slap-you-in-the-face flavours, but this recipe celebrates the delicateness of June produce. Combined, the seasonal vegetables and herbs create a surprisingly zingy taste sensation. The textures of this dish elevate it to a level where you stop saying it's good, and just make pleasing noises while you spoon it in. Lettuce, wilted with a bit of crunch still in it; crusty chewy sourdough toast; creamy bites of broad bean and a broth laced with velvety olive oil. She ain't bad to look at either, the varying shades of gentle green sit atop the sunny golden toast, all dusted with a white flurry of parmesan.
Broad beans, cocooned in big bulbous pods with a soft furry lining, are out in abundance now. I bought a bag full at the local farmers' market, but I've seen them in supermarkets as well. If you strike out on finding fresh ones, bags of frozen podded beans are widely available.
Little heads of lettuce have popped up in gardens everywhere, or in my case, in window boxes. Choose a variety with crunch, such as Little Gem or Romaine, as you want some bite left in it after it's faced hot broth. And finally the bread. Do no skimp here. Buy or bake a round of proper crusty sourdough (the king of breads!). If it sits for a day, fine, this recipe surely has its roots in the Italian custom of making soup using day-old bread and beans. You'll toast it, and it will soak up some broth but add a bit of crispiness to each bite.
Broad Bean, Basil and Lettuce Soup
Adapted from: Nigel Slater's food column in Observer Magazine
Serves 3 (big bowls) 4 (starter portions)
150g shelled broad beans
75ml olive oil
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
250g crunchy crisp lettuce (I used Little Gem)
Pinch dried chilli flakes
750ml vegetable stock
6 springs flat leaf parsley
12 large basil leaves
5 slices sourdough bread
Handful grated parmesean
Extra-virgin olive oil to drizzle on top
If you're an urbanite like myself, sitting with a colander between your knees and podding beans or peas is a nostalgic trip, suddenly I'm a kid in pig-tails, sat on a front porch shucking corn with my grandfather. Prepping summer veg is a relaxing pastime, that kicks off this recipe. Pod the broad beans (admire their very spongy yet furry lining!) and boil them for about 7 minutes, time may vary based on bean size, just until they are tender. Drain the beans in a colander and place it under cold running water.
Wash and dry the lettuce then cut it into wide ribbons. Pour the olive oil into a deep saucepan and warm it over a gentle heat. Add the garlic and cook until softened and just starting to take on colour. Add the chilli flakes to the garlic and stir, then tip in the shredded lettuce. Just as the lettuce starts to wilt, pour over the stock and season with a pinch of salt and freshly ground pepper. Quickly bring this mix to a boil, then add the broad beans and lower the temperature to simmer for a few minutes.
Pop the bread in the toaster and roughly chop the parsley and shred the basil leaves. Add the herbs to the soup. Tear the toast into big pieces, and scatter into warmed bowls. Top the toast with the vegetables and broth, then grate parmesan over top and drizzle lightly with extra-virgin olive oil. Eat straight away!
Love your Leftovers: As the textures are so key in this dish, it's best eaten freshly made. If there's any left after the first round, have seconds! That's what we did...