Monday, 2 June 2008

Pea shoots not rocket science

Move over mizuna and rocket. There’s a new salad leaf in the pack. If we’re to believe the hype, pea shoots will be cropping up everywhere this summer - at barbecues, in Pimm’s, even on the hats of ladies at Ascot - as this season’s favourite leafy garnish.

Pea shoots are the tender leaves of the traditional garden pea plant harvested after just two weeks when the plant is less than a foot tall. Grown in natural sunlight from April to October on Mullens Farm in Wiltshire, the plants have crunchy stems and delicate leaves, like watercress, and taste of freshly shucked peas.

Skye Gyngell is serving them at her delightful Petersham Nurseries restaurant in Richmond, London, with just about everything from crab cakes to roast pork belly. They work well, too, whizzed in a smoky bacon soup or crushed up in bubble and squeak.

Wine will depend on what the pea shoots are garnishing. A good match, particularly with seafood starters, is an Iona Sauvignon Blanc (Waitrose, £9.49) from South Africa. It’s a classic cool-climate white with a wonderfully aromatic nose showing fine mineral notes, hints of herbs and a touch of gooseberry fruit. On the palate it complements well the intense, fresh flavour of the delicate pea shoot leaves.

The brains behind pea shoots is the marketing team at Vitacress (turnover £70 million) who regularly scout for fresh ideas among the kitchens of California. Basically, an age-old allotment secret has been washed in spring water and repackaged for selected supermarkets. Very tasty but it’s not, err, rocket science.

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