You know how it is when you excavate the fridge. You find odd things lurking about. Well, the chicken breast looked a bit manky. Not quite in the first flush of youth. But it smelt all right, and I’ve learnt to trust my nose over the years. There was a scrap of brick-hard Parmesan and an end of Comte in the fridge. I knew there was a nub end of baguette hanging about. That was a start. And there was chicken stock in the freezer. More excitingly, some of Britain’s rarest vegetables (rare because there aren’t going to be many of them), my first peas, broad beans and onions, were just coming on stream. And so a dish was born, not perhaps the most original in the history of cooking, light and clear, with the freshness of spring, if I can wax poetic for a moment.
Note. The broad beans were Lungha Cascina and the peas Avola and Norli, if anyone’s interested. I will report on their precise eating qualities later. If I have enough to taste, that is.
For the dumplings
250g chicken meat (breast, wings, legs or thighs)
50g grated cheese (Parmesan is good, but any non-blue cheese will do)
1 tbsp parsley
250 ml chicken stock.
Whiz the chicken meat and parsley in a food processor to the point when it’s well chopped but not quite a paste. Mix with the cheese and breadcrumbs. Roll into small balls. Each person should have 3 or 4 dumplings, so you can decide on the size yourself. Bring the stock to simmering point and poach the dumplings for about 3–4 minutes. You can always poach the dumplings in the soup stock, but you may end up by clouding it, so I suggest cooking them separately in a stock made with commercial concentrate or a cube.
For the soup
There’s no need to be tied to peas, broad beans or onions. I would have added a carrot or two, radishes, even a baby turnip if any had been to hand. Of course, you can use frozen peas and beans if you can’t get the fresh ones, or if the fresh ones aren’t in the prime of life, which with peas is about 24 hours after they’ve been picked
1 lt clear chicken stock
A handful of freshly podded peas
Broad beans ditto
2 small onions
A few springs of chervil (optional)
Bring the stock to simmering point. Add the peas, beans and onions. Assuming the vegetables are very fresh, they will only take 2-3 minutes to cook. If they’re a bit older they may take up to 10 minutes.
Now ladle the soup into soup bowls or plates, making sure everyone gets their fair share of veg. Pop the dumplings in at strategic points. Add a sprig of chervil or two if you have it. Eat and savour.