The Circus Gardener's Kitchen

seasonal vegetarian recipes with a side helping of food politics

pea and ricotta polpette with mint and pistachio pesto

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As I write this post it is a week since the momentous decision of the UK electorate to vote to leave the European Union (“Brexit”).

In the run up to the referendum both the “Vote Leave” and the “Vote Remain” camps led disgracefully shallow and misleading campaigns. As someone who is proudly European and who sees immigration as a positive cultural influence, I was particularly dismayed at the barely concealed xenophobia underpinning the “Vote leave” campaign’s anti-immigration propaganda.

In my view, the referendum result means the UK has decided to take a culturally backward step, and I believe that ultimately we will end up realising that we have lost far more than we will have gained.

In due course, once I have got over the shock and despondency I feel about this insular decision, I will write about what I see as the long term implications of Brexit for the environment, agriculture and food.

But for now, let me give you an example of what I mean when I talk about positive cultural influences. A couple of weeks before the Brexit vote I was on holiday in Sicily, the largest of the islands of the Mediterranean. Over the centuries Sicily has been colonised many times, and this has made it a crucible of Mediterranean culture. Nowhere is this better reflected than in its unique cuisine: Sicily’s food has clear Greek, Spanish, French, Italian and Arab influences.

Like most Mediterranean cultures, Sicily also has many wonderful, bustling markets where shoppers can buy great food direct from the farmer or producer. This is something we have so little of in the UK. Food markets usually exist on the margins of our food shopping experiences and so many of our food-related choices and activities are controlled by supermarkets and big food corporations.

Of course, supermarket shopping is “convenient”, but it is also a joyless experience compared to the hustle-bustle, sights, sounds and smells of the open air food markets of Sicily and much of Europe.

There are, however, some signs of hope. The local food movement has grown slowly but steadily as an antidote to the bland homogeneity of supermarket and convenience shopping. Here and there, farmers’ markets have sprung up across Britain and the USA, selling some wonderful locally grown and produced foodstuffs.

It may sometimes cost a little more (although quite often it costs less, because the “middle man” is removed from the transaction), but at a farmers market you will find good seasonal, quality produce – artisan breads and cheeses, locally produced fruit and vegetables, herbs and preserves – that you simply won’t find at the supermarket.
You will also experience those sights, sounds and smells which so enrich the food shopping experience, and which are an integral part of those cultures which have a healthier relationship with the food they eat.

If you fancy putting some enjoyment and adventure into your food shop you can find out where and when your nearest UK farmers’ market is held from here, or by googling “farmers’ market” and your area.

lemonsgarlicgreen split pea flour

On to the recipe, which I have created in association with Suma Wholefoods Cooperative. Under the terms of our arrangement, I select products from the Suma Wholefoods range which Suma provide free of charge. From these I create an original recipe which appears on the Suma website as as well here, on the Circus Gardener’s Kitchen.

Of all Sicily’s outside influences over the centuries, it is arguably the arabs that have had the greatest culinary impact. Along with oranges, lemons, rice and saffron, the island’s arabic immigrants brought pistachios, which feature in a number of unique Sicilian dishes, including a popular version of pesto made with pistachios.

Polpette translates from Italian as “meatballs”, usually served with pasta and a rich tomato sauce. This is my vegetarian version, light and fresh tasting. These polpettes incorporate both fresh peas and powdered green split pea to give an intensified pea flavour and they work beautifully with the pistachio and mint pesto.

For a more healthy version you can bake the polpette in the oven (just brush them with olive oil and bake at 180°C/350°F/gas mark 4 for around 15-20 minutes).

Buon appetito!

pea and ricotta polpette with mint and pistachio pesto


200 g fresh peas (shelled weight), or use frozen, defrosted
100 g ricotta cheese
100 g green split peas, ground to a fine powder
30 g cornflour
2 spring onions, finely chopped
zest and juice of a lemon
30 g vegetarian Parmesan cheese, finely grated
1 green chilli, deseeded and finely chopped
10 g fresh mint leaves, finely chopped
1 free range egg yolk
½ tsp sea salt
groundnut oil, for deep frying

for the pesto

25 g fresh mint leaves, roughly chopped
40 g vegetarian Parmesan cheese
150 ml olive oil, plus 2 tbsp for cooking
20 g pistachio kernels
juice of half a lemon
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped

to serve



1. Put the ground split peas in a bowl with 100 ml hot water. Stir into a paste and set to one side for 20 minutes while you make the pesto and prepare the other ingredients.

2. Put the mint leaves, pistachio kernels, garlic, olive oil, lemon juice and Parmesan in a blender and process until you have a thick pesto sauce. Set to one side.

3. Cook the peas in boiling water for 2 minutes, then drain and refresh under cold water. Mash half the peas and put in a bowl, with the other peas, the green split pea paste, cornflour, egg yolk, spring onions, lemon zest and fuice, Parmesan, chilli, mint leaves, ricotta and sea salt. Mix to combine thoroughly.

4. Start cooking your spaghetti.While it is cooking, pour the oil into a pan to a depth of about 5 cm. Place over a medium heat. When the oil is hot, carefully drop tablespoons of the polpette mixture into the oil. You will need to do this in small batches to avoid overcrowding the pan and lowering the temperature too drastically. Turn the polpette to ensure they are evenly cooked to a lovely golden brown colour. This should take 2-3 minutes. Drain on kitchen paper.

5. Drain the spaghetti through a colander and return back to its empty cooking pan. Add half the mint and pistachio pesto and stir to coat the spaghetti.

6. To serve, place the spaghetti in bowls, topped with a few pea polpette. Drizzle over the remaining pesto.

Categories: vegetarian

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25 replies

  1. And now I know the meaning of polpette. They look delicious.

  2. Thank you for a real person impression of the Brexit. It’s so hard to sort out the info we are getting here in the US. I don’t want to be on the side of phony elites, but have not heard a thorough, convincing argument on either side despite trying to listen to low hype sources (NPR, BBC, CBC). My instinct is that the EU is so reasonable compared to what we have going on here, I even kind of hold it up as hope for the future… but I don’t want to be naïve. I’m looking forward to your future words of wisdom on the topic.

    • Hi Mary.

      Thank you so much for commenting. The EU is by no means a perfect institution, but it represents an extraordinary peace project, which for the past half century or so has eliminated war between European states – the trigger for both of last century’s world wars.

      Right now the biggest threat we all face is environmental – global warming, population increase and the loss of arable land – and the EU has a pivotal role to play in developing a long term, sustainable and deliverable strategy.

      On the down side, the EU needs democratic reform (but that can only be achieved from within, not by leaving). Its decision making is sometimes unduly influenced by multinational corporations, although despite that it has also taken bold and imaginative environmental actions, such as the ban on neonicotinoids pesticides and restrictions on GMOs (both decisions which the UK government opposed and tried to undermine).

      None of us in the UK can predict with certainty what the future holds for us outside the EU (we now have a vacuum at the heart of British government following the referendum result, with the resignation of the Prime Minister and both the government and main opposition parties are locked in inner turmoil and recrimination), but many of us who voted “remain” are truly devastated as we realise that we have lost – forever – the bold, imaginative and outward looking European future that we believed in.


  3. I went to Sicily for my honeymoon 19 years ago and would quite happily have stayed there as a hermit moving from village to village and eating my way around. I love the diversity of the food and the different cultures that mingle to make it. I’m so sad about the outcome of the referendum too and for exactly the same reasons as you cite. I wish my girls did not have such an uncertain future in this country.

    • Yes, the cuisine in Sicily is wonderful, and it’s not much of a problem for vegetarians or even vegans to find something to eat in most restaurants there. I’ve come back with lots of ideas for future recipes. 🙂

      • I want to go back. We didn’t get to explore the south west coast much where all the salt marshes are. Lovely place. Happy memories.

  4. Thank you for your thoughts Steve and particularly for your reply to Mary outlining environmental issues. You are quite right when you say the campaigns were shallow. For such a vital issue there seemed to be very little real information and so I look forward to hearing more of your thoughts. I voted remain too and was shocked and dismayed when the result came through.
    Great sounding recipe again!

    • I think there are far more repercussions associated with the referendum outcome, short and long term, than most of us probably envisaged, and I am afraid that (from my perspective at least) most of them are negative.

  5. I too have been in ‘Brexit shock’ – it is really hard to take in that this is the referendum result. I agree that it’s a dangerously backward step. I am concerned that the uncharted waters in which we find ourselves will lead us into many storms yet, with every political and corporate vested interest fighting for their own financial corner, regardless of the outcome for the planet. Then, right after Brexit, we find ourselves in a ship with no captain and the rest of the crew in mutiny with each other. We all certainly need to keep our eyes open and our wits about us for covert deal-making that is not in the interests of the majority or the planet.

    I was reading a blog post by Martin Harper, the Conservation Director of the RSPB, this week – his early thoughts on Brexit and its potential impact on nature. One of the areas he touches on is how to replace the Common Agriculture Policy and that we need to examine how to secure a food and farming sector across the UK that is good for people, for wildlife and is fair to farmers.

    With the shenanigans we’re seeing in the US this week over the Vermont GMO labelling issue, not to mention the CETA deal, keeping control of food sovereignty is going to be very tough. Getting into the habit of growing local and buying local produce, along with maintaining fairtrade for overseas producers, has never been more important.

  6. Hi Peggy. Thank you for your interesting and thoughtful comments, and for providing the RSPB link. I am afraid I still struggling to get past the deep sense of loss I feel following the “Brexit” vote, but I admire those, like Martin Harper, who have already been able to look strategically at how we might make the most of our post-Brexit future in terms of protecting and promoting the environment.


  7. This looks like a truly delicious dish. I haven’t seen polpettes before but they sound lovely.

  8. Looking forward to your post about what brexit means for uk food. Thanks for another delicious looking recipe. Hope you enjoyed your holiday x

  9. What an amazing combination with a great capture in frame!!

  10. I’ve just spotted this on the Suma Blogger’s Network Pinterest board and I’m dying to try it. such gorgeous summery flavours – just need a bit of summer now 😉

    • Thank you Choclette. This one is a firm favourite in my household.
      I do love the long, balmy days of summer but must admit I rather like the other seasons too as they invite experimentation with different seasonal ingredients. Right now, in the dead of winter, I’m mulling over some embryonic ideas for leeks and celery. Hopefully a fully formed recipe will emerge! 🙂

  11. Beautiful and delicious recipe. Love the photography 🙂


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