One of my favourite gardens in Victoria is Picardy, a romantic French provincial style garden in the picturesque hills of Neerim.
Marian and Bryce Somes had always been Francophiles - mad for French food, in love with the language - but it was a trip to France to celebrate a significant birthday year in 1986 that confirmed a passion for French style.
Garden pea risotto, a la Picardy. Photo - Sue Stubbs
They found the ideal property to create their own French folly six years later - 26 bare but bucolic acres they called Picardy, after their first stop
on that fateful trip. The garden has developed ever since, with perennial and rose gardens inspired by Giverny, anchored around a rammed earth farmhouse
that glows the color of creamed honey. There are also orchards, a vineyard, an olive grove and an extensive kitchen garden, which feeds Marian’s love
of French cooking.
The story of the garden is told in a lovely new book, Picardy, written by Marian, with atmospheric pictures by Sue Stubbs, and complete with sample menus
and simple recipes to enjoy la vie Francaise.
We’re sharing a recipe from the book on these pages - Marian’s easy pea risotto, which cleverly uses the peapods to make a stock before they go into the
compost bin. “I hate tossing the pods to the chooks after all that effort of shelling,” she writes. Her risotto method is common sense too - cook very
slowly, covered for 20 minutes, then take the lid off and stir for the last five minutes of cooking, for an easy and very creamy result. “An induction
cooktop which controls the heat would be foolproof, but I manage on my wood-fired stove,” she writes. “On gas, which sometimes is hard to regulate
to a slow, slow simmer, a simmer mat could be useful.”
What you need
1kg fresh peas in the pod, shelled, peas put to one side
1½ cups icy water
1/2 onion, peeled and finely chopped
1 small clove garlic, finely chopped and smashed
2 tablespoons butter
11/4 cups (200g) Arborio or Italian Carnaroli rice
1/3 cup (80ml) white wine
2 cups reserved pea stock
salt and pepper
Parmesan cheese to taste
1 slice prosciutto or bacon
What to do
First make the pea stock. Blanch 350g of fresh pea-pods (after shelling) in a pot of boiling water. Drain. Plunge the pods into a bowl containing 1½ cups
of icy cold water to set the colour.
Process the pods with the water. Strain through a fine sieve or mouli, discard the fibrous bits and set aside the pea stock. Reserve 1/4 cup of stock for
the pea purée and 2 cups for the risotto – make up the amount with water if you don’t have quite enough.
To make the pea puree, cook peas, butter and ¼ cup of the pea stock in a saucepan for about 5 mins, then process till smooth.
Gently fry the onion and garlic in the butter till translucent. Add the rice and cook gently, stirring, until rice is shiny (4–5 mins).
Pour in the white wine and pea stock. Add salt and pepper. Stir then cover and cook very gently for 20 minutes. Occasionally check that it is not cooking
After 20 mins stir for another 5 minutes, then stir in the pea purée and Parmesan cheese. Taste and season with salt and pepper. (A little lemon juice
or white wine can be added to sharpen the flavour.)
While the risotto is cooking gently fry some small dice of prosciutto or lardons of bacon until crisp. Serve the risotto in shallow bowls, topped with
the prosciutto or bacon and a shaving of Parmesan.
Come with us
Picardy is a highlight of our Inside Victoria tour, which catches great gardens of country Victoria at their spring best. October 28 - November 5. Call 1300 233 200 for details.