I need to be careful about how I phrase this, because my mum, who is learning English and translates every single one of my posts (coraggio mamma!) might get offended. But it needs to be said to understand where this recipe comes from. My parents annoy me. They have a garden in which rosemary, sage and tens of other herbs grow beautifully. And not just beautifully. They grow a lot (my mum tells me some of them behave like garden pests), they sprout from every available corner and turn into thick bushes in the matter of a year or so. Now, I know there really isn’t any point in complaining about my seasonal struggles with our herbs. I’m not the first one to realise the difficulties in growing mediterranean plants in northern climates. The point, really, is that my parents don’t use their herbs. A few rosemary sprigs to roast potatoes, and that’s about it. They have this…this plentifulness, this abundance of gorgeous herbs, and they hardly ever use them. Who knows why. Of course, it was only natural that when I was over there I’d feel compelled to use some of them in my cooking.

Here in England, on our external windowsill we currently have sage, thyme and rosemary. Basil stays indoors but never survives long enough to be considered “ours”. I use them all regularly. I’m not very familiar with lemon balm, though. Its flavour is a cross between lemon and mint, with, I think, the former more pronounced than the latter (otherwise I probably wouldn’t like it). My mum and I found a perfectly formed plant hidden amongst some flowers and as soon as I rubbed its leaves with my fingers and smelled them, I knew I had to use it. Because everything ripens a little bit earlier in Italy thanks to the milder climate, I paired it with fresh peas, Parmigiano, good oil and good bread in a simple starter, snack or lunch that can be prepared in no time. I first tried something similar when we prepared broad beans bruschette following a recipe from this lovely little book, and I was really impressed. I wasn’t familiar with the concept of eating peas and broad beans raw but after trying these recipes I’m converted. As for the lemon balm, as soon as I came back to England I bought some seeds and now I have the first three tiny plants growing in my kitchen. Hopefully this time next year I will be able to use it to make this bruschetta again.

Pea and lemon balm bruschetta

Makes about 15 small bruschette

200 gr podded fresh peas
3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
about 10 lemon balm leaves, finely chopped
3 tbsp freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano, Grana Padano or Pecorino (+ some shavings to decorate the bruschetta, optional)
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
salt & pepper
thick slices of your favourite, good quality bread, toasted

Put all the ingredients (except the bread, of course) in a bowl and mash them for about 10 minutes with a fork. The vast majority of the peas will remain whole, but some will become mush and give some substance to the mixture. Spoon some of the mixture on the bread, decorate with the cheese shavings (if using) and serve.