Pea shoot salad with Ligurian olives and goat’s cheese

My beloved despairs of my habit of putting all her best efforts on buttered bread, turning anything from crayfish to roast lamb into nothing more than a sandwich.

It’s something I will never grow out of, although I have thus far avoided reverting to type when in company.

At home there is nothing I will not put on bread: fish, veal, lamb, definitely poultry, chips and, above all, hot peas. During my restaurant days, I used to live on pea sandwiches followed by ice cream. The bread was always delicious, the peas plentiful and podded, and there was always a pot of boiling water on hand for a quick dip. This was more often than not lunch. Dinner, late, when desserts were going out, was likely to be leftover mashed potatoes… on bread, of course. Followed by ice cream. So there you are, behind all the glamour of the flash restaurant, a pea sandwich, and ice cream.

This unfortunate joy of mine drives her to distraction, but I’m afraid she is taking it the wrong way. It is not discrediting her cooking — quite the reverse. This is my method of saying wow: you have retained the flavour, the essence of the food; let me present it to you with my kindest regards. A sandwich is the highest level of food. Nothing confuses.

I refer you to this rather quaint habit because it became my tasting medium when I ran into pea shoots at the local fruiterer. At first glance this was another of those strange vegetables popping up in flat polystyrene packages covered in plastic wrap.

They are usually labelled like wine — front and back labels explaining what the hell they are. This was no different.

‘Pea shoots, as the name suggests, is the top of the pea plant.’ (I dashed out the back to check our rather young pea plants. They looked just the same, although our shoots were bigger. I wasn’t game to pick off any. They were too young, and it might have given the dog the wrong idea.)

‘It has been a popular vegetable eaten by the Chinese for a long time. (I am amazed I have never heard of it before.) Now freshly grown in Australia (in Kilsyth). Use in sandwich, salad, soup, or any other way as your normal vegetables. Pea shoots are an excellent source of vitamins and minerals.’

On the back of the pack were the recipes. Garden salad: Mix pea shoots with cucumber etc. I flicked that. Cucumber is one of the few things I can’t eat, and anyway, any salad with cucumber becomes a cucumber salad.

Egg and pea shoot soup: No. As above, just change cucumber for egg.

Fried: In 50–100 ml cooking oil. Doubtful, Too much oil.

I was thinking of something more simple. Pea shoots on bread and butter. I had some crusty white bread (white so as not to intrude on the flavour), some delicious butter and a full pepper grinder.

I warmed the pea shoots by dipping them briefly in boiling water, and planted a good handful on the bread. (They were warmed so as to just melt the butter.)

Aaaah. My youth came flooding back. Pea sandwich, without the bother of the peas falling off your bread, dripping down your neck, running across the table. Isn’t it lovely that you can do these things without your mother scolding you? The wife… that’s another matter.

Whatever, these pea shoots are a great success. They taste just like peas, are deliciously fresh, hold olive oil and butter beautifully, and they’re great on their own to chew. They make a wonderful salad base, in the same style as watercress.

handful of pea shoots — This method applies equally to any green which has a solid flavour of its own: thus watercress, mustard cress, spinach, whitlof, silver beet.

a few cubes of hard goat’s cheese — Or cheddar will do as long as it’s not too ‘bitey’.

dozen olives — If you can get bold of those lovely, tiny, Ligurian olives, do.

a little lemon juice

a lot more of your best olive oil

black pepper

a little salt


Mix the lot together in a bowl with your fingers.


Heat a heavy-based pan until it is very hot.


Add the mix, turn off the heat, and toss around until it is just warmed through. The leaves will be glistening with the oil.


Serve in the middle of lovely white plates.