REGULAR readers (poor souls) will recall that only last week, I was reflecting on how fabulous fish is when cooked over charcoal. I do enjoy firing up the barbecue to cook just about any meal that the weather will allow. But I am not a caveman grilling away over the glowing coals at any opportunity. I do not want to risk charcoal overkill. So for a gentle and satisfying change, I like to turn instead to braising dishes.

However, I’m not talking hearty stews, sticky glazed meat and rich sauces more suited to winter and nor am I rushing us into the autumn. The kind of braised dish I enjoy now is an altogether lighter version, ideal for summer lunches and lingering evenings.

This is the perfect time for vegetables to take centre-stage, simmered gently in light stock, with fragrant herbs to the fore, some subtle spicing to add interest and maybe the clean tang of sour cream for refreshing sharpness. Peas "a la Francaise", simmered with shredded lettuce, bacon and tiny onions, is a famous classic of this genre. Young carrots cooked in a similar way alongside the peas is a sweet tribute to summer’s finest produce. A handful of finely grated parmesan enriches with salty savouriness

Wild Scottish mushrooms also benefit from the gentle treatment. Local chanterelles or ceps simmered in vermouth and cream make an unctuous partner to roasted chicken, or just on their own on toasted brioche. Finishing with tarragon and thyme adds aromatic depths.

Young carrots and peas with braised lettuce

Recipes serve four

2 heads of Little Gem lettuce

600g young (or small) carrots sliced on an angle

400g fresh peas, podded (you will need about 1.5kg of peas in the pod)

4-5 very small pearl onions, or pickling or button onions, per person

About 150-200ml vegetable stock, preferably homemade, or light chicken stock

70ml white vermouth

2 rounded dstsp chopped tarragon

100g unsalted butter, cold, diced into small pieces


1. Place the onions, in their skins, in a small to medium sized pan, cover with cold water and add a little salt. Bring to the boil then simmer for 10 minutes until slightly softened. Now drain and run under cold water for a few minutes. The skin will be loose and easy to peel away. Leave the root intact so the onion is held together. Set aside for now.

2. Trim the root off the lettuce heads then tug the leaves apart so they tumble apart individually. Wash them then drain in a colander or spin dry in a salad spinner. Finely shred the leaves then set aside for now.

3. Heat a medium-sized saucepan large enough to hold all the ingredients. The lettuce will cook down to a quarter of its size. Add a third of the butter, the pearl onions and carrots and cover with a lid then sweat gently over a low heat allowing the butter to melt and cook slowly like this for 10 minutes, shaking the pan occasionally. After this time, add the peas and cook for three or four minutes, adding a little more butter.

4. Now add the vermouth and bring to the boil then add the stock, season very lightly with a little pinch of sea salt flakes and bring to a simmer. Do not use a lid or the peas will become a dull colour. Cook for just a few minutes until the peas are tender. Add the shredded lettuce and stir in then add the rest of the butter. Stir it in so it melts and thickens the stock. Remove from the heat, as boiling it now will cause it to split. Add the chopped tarragon then transfer to a serving bowl and serve at once. Good with fish, lamb or chicken.

Braised broad beans, tomato and bacon cooked with parmesan and feta

2kg broad beans in their long pods

8 rashers of thin-cut streaky bacon or pancetta

2 banana shallots, diced

300ml tomato passata

100g parmesan cheese

100g feta cheese

Several sprigs of thyme

A dstsp fresh oregano or marjoram leaves, optional

Several large basil leaves to shred at the end


1. Working over a bowl, remove the broad beans from their long pods by running your finger along the length of the pods so the beans plop out into the tub beneath. Discard the empty pods. Bring a large pan of salted water to the boil and cook the beans for five minutes then drain and re-fresh thoroughly. Now shell the beans from their husks, peeling away then discarding the greyish green outer casing and leaving you with the emerald green beans. Set these aside for now.

2. Heat a medium-sized saucepan over a moderate heat for one minute then add a dessertspoon of olive oil. While waiting, cut the bacon into thin strips. Add to the pan when ready and fry very gently so it turns evenly brown, stirring regularly. Do not rush this stage. Add the diced shallots and continue frying gently so they soften.

3. Add the tomato passata and bring almost to the boil. This can be done to this stage in advance then re-heated before proceeding to the next step

4. Add the shelled beans and thyme and simmer for five minutes

5. Grate the parmesan then stir into the sauce. Remove from the heat and add the remaining herbs, if using. Place in a serving bowl, crumble the feta over the top, scatter the basil leaves then serve at once.

Geoffrey Smeddle is chef patron of The Peat Inn, by St Andrews, Fife KY15 5LH 01334 840206