Okay, my daughter Elinor, age 10, didn't actually want to eat this salad, but, because she grew these broad beans herself, she was enchanted to see her crop mature into edible vegetables. And there is something so rewarding about planting seeds and seeing them transform into fresh, crunchy things you can eat. To the credit of my children, they have, over time, eagerly planted all sorts of things: seeds, seedlings, marbles, socks, toys, fish-fingers, stiff hamsters, rigid budgies and, on one memorable occasion, a bare foot through a glass window. Mostly, the results of these plantings have been pathetic (and painful and expensive, in the case of the foot). Small children have no patience, and they lose interest so quickly. Watering a seedling that shows no inclination to turn into a carrot within four hours holds no appeal for a child. Particularly - and this was my mistake in my earlier mommy-gardening years - if it was sown in a barren, shady patch at the saddest end of the garden.
She was quite right (thanks, Tracey!). My garden jungled, and twelve months later, when a black frost killed the ornamental shrubs in a 50-cm-wide strip running down one garden wall, I pulled them out, recomposted the beds and planted every vegetable and herb and tree that I could lay my hands on. The reward: bountiful crops of lovely fresh greens and veggies. Which just goes to show that you really don't need a lot of space to grow your own food.
Anyway, Elinor has eagerly inspected her mustard greens, rocket, lettuce, carrots and broad beans - all grown from packets - every day for months. And when the beans were finally harvested and eaten - by me, greedily, and with slurping noises - well, this girl was in heaven: I heard her singing as she picked her crop.
This is not to say that there is any monetary profit whatsoever in growing your own vegetables on a small scale (although it's definitely cheaper to grow your own herbs). The yield is really tiny, and it's far, far cheaper to buy them from your local greengrocer. But, then again, you will have the satisfaction of knowing that you've shown your child how to grow something, and how delicious that something tastes like when it is plucked straight out of the earth. You will also know exactly where that produce came from, and you can even bask in the knowledge that it is really, truly and terribly organic. (See my post about the dubious greeniness of growing your own veg).
This recipe needs and deserves a hot poached egg, with a runny centre. If you are not confident about poaching an egg in boiling water (and this is extremely tricky, given the humdrum quality of South African eggs), use my cling-film method, which you will find in the recipe below.
Elinor's Salad of Broad Beans and Asparagus, topped with a Poached Egg and Parmesan Shavings
For the dressing:
a small clove of fresh garlic, peeled
a pinch of salt
4 T (60 ml) olive oil
the juice of a lemon
half a teaspoon (2.5 ml) Dijon mustard
For the salad:
1 cup (250 ml) fresh broad beans [fava beans], taken out of their pods
10 small spears of fresh asparagus, sliced into 3-cm-long pieces
a handful (about half a cup; 125 ml) flat-leaf parsley, very finely chopped
2 fresh eggs
1 T (25 ml) white vinegar (see notes below about egg-poaching)
a small wedge of Parmesan cheese (Grana Padano or Pecorino will do)
freshly milled black pepper
First make the dressing. Crush the garlic (in a mortar, with the salt, or with a garlic crusher) and, in a little bowl, whisk it together with the other dressing ingredients.
Bring a pan of salted water to a rolling boil. Tip in all the broad beans, and cook for three minutes. Remove from the boiling water, using a slotted spoon, and place in a bowl. If you are dealing with big broad beans, slip off their white skins by making a small slit with a knife and squeezing them gently. If they are tiny, leave them as they are. Now add the asparagus to the water and cook at a rapid boil for 4-5 minutes, or until just tender. Remove, drain well and add to the bowl containing the beans. Leave the water boiling.
Now poach the eggs: if you're using the traditional method, add a splash of white vinegar to the water, which should be gently boiling. Break the first egg into a tea cup. Using a big spoon, stir the water rapidly to create a vortex. Gently tip the egg into the boiling water. Poach for three to four minutes, or until the egg white is cooked through, but the yolk is still runny. Remove the egg with a slotted spoon and set aside. Do the same with the second egg.
Or, use my cheat's method: press a piece of clingfilm (saran wrap) into a ramekin dish or teacup, or a similarly sized bowl. Allow the clingfilm generously to overlap the edges of the dish. Using your fingers, rub a little vegetable oil over the surface of the clingfilm (but only over those parts pressed up against the edges of the bowl). Break the egg - keeping its yolk intact - into the lined dish. Now gather up the edges, pull them upwards and twist them lightly together to make a small 'purse'. Submerge the 'purse' in the boiling water. You will need to hold this package while it cooks, or, at a pinch, you can drape its edges over the side of the pan. Cook for two and a half to three minutes, or until the egg white is cooked through, but the yolk is hot but still runny. Lift the purse from the water and put it on a chopping board. Carefully peel away and flatten the clingfilm. Gently slide a metal spatula under the egg to loosen it, taking care not to break the yolk. Trim away any ragged edges, using a sharp knife.
Pour the dressing over the warm beans and asparagus and stir in the chopped parsley. Toss well to combine and season with salt and pepper. Pile the salad onto a plate and top with the hot poached eggs. Using a potato peeler, shave thin slices off the cheese and scatter them over the salad. Serve immediately.