There's a rule: when visiting Italy in the warmer months you simply must indulge in at least two serves of gelato per day. It's not an official rule. In fact, I may have made it up, but it's a good one considering the sheer number of delectable flavours on offer. The same applies to cheese because each different region you visit will have its own specialities. Stracciatella, for example, is a variety of soft buffalo milk cheese made in Puglia using a shredding technique. Until recently I had no idea stracciatella was anything other than a flavour of gelato. Then Oliver brought some of the cheese home from La Latteria in Carlton and I knew straight away I just had to make (and share) the recipe below.
It's pea and broad bean season and aside from picking our first heirloom tomatoes of the year there's no other crop more anticipated. Oliver is known to keep a few broad bean pods in his pocket while he works only to pod them one by one every now and then for a snack and we both pick the super-sweet and crunchy snap peas whenever the mood takes us and eat them straight from the plant. The majority of our peas are sold to chef Josh Murphy of the Builders Arms Hotel in Fitzroy. It gives us such pleasure to see how excited and interested the chefs become when our produce is delivered. On a recent visit to the Builders chef James Henry of Bones in Paris said they were the best peas he'd ever eaten and a review of Murphy's Moon Under Water dining room said of our snap peas - "where have you been all my life!"
This recipe was loosely inspired by an Andrew McConnell dish using crushed peas, raw tuna and goats curd famous at his eatery Cumulus Inc. (where Oliver and I met incidentally. He was my boss and every now and then he would arrange to finish work at the same time as me so he could drive me home). I was reminded of the dish after attending the opening of McConnell's new wine bar Marion on Gertrude Street in Fitzroy - a stunning room with a great feel about it and an interesting menu that will make you want to try every dish. If you have trouble finding stracciatella cheese then you can always replace it with an imported buffalo mozzarella. Fresh ricotta would be fabulous too although if using ricotta you might want to add a little extra salt to taste. My recipe doesn't include it as stracciatella is already sufficiently salty while still being creamy and deliciously light.
Crushed peas and broad beans with stracciatella on toast
Serves 2 as a snack or starter
1/2 cup broad beans (podded)
1/2 cup peas (podded)
1 cup stracciatella cheese
1 garlic clove
2 slices of grilled or toasted sourdough or other thick and crusty white bread
10 mint leaves (finely shredded)
Extra virgin olive oil
Finely slice your mint leaves with a sharp knife. You can shred them by hand but I find the finer strands cling to the peas and beans better. Plunge the peas and broad beans into boiling water for no more than 1 minute if they are straight from the garden/market and sweet (longer obviously if you are using frozen). You can then refresh them in iced water to stop the cooking process but I didn't do it this time and they still maintained a good texture, so, up to you.
Toast or grill the bread and cut the end third off your garlic clove without removing the skin. Rub the exposed end of the garlic on to the surface of your toast. This will give you a hint of garlic flavour without overpowering the dish.
Using a mortar and pestle or a fork and small bowl, lightly crush the cooked peas and broad beans. Add the mint and coat with a drizzle of olive oil. Spoon on top of your toast before adding the stracciatella and finishing with another quick drizzle of olive oil over the whole dish. Buon appetito!
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