In this second post in David's 'From plot to plate' series, the spotlight is on broad beans. Whether you have just the first small bean pods, or your plants are adorned with large pods fit to burst, there are recipes here for you. Comments are welcome: did you try any of the recipes and how did you find them? You could also share your own recipes using these ingredients, or other produce you’re growing that’s in season now.
If I were asked to name the two easiest crops to grow on an allotment, I would probably say broad beans and leeks. I usually sow some beans in seed trays at home in late February, and sow more directly into the soil a little later in the year. Once sown, about 8 inches apart, they should pop up and need very little maintenance until harvest. They can be susceptible to our traditional foes, the birds, so I recommend securely netting the plants until they are properly established. I usually choose dwarf varieties such as Sutton or Robin as they seem to be as productive as the larger varieties which need some support. For varieties that do need support, it is easily done - 4 stout stakes at each corner and string around them at 1 metre vertical intervals, is all that is required. It is also important to water them copiously as soon as the tiny pods start to form to allow the beans to swell. This year we were lucky as we had torrential rain just at the right time, saving us all onerous watering!
Two of the best ways of serving broad beans when they are young are so simple that they do not really qualify as recipes. Boiled - or better, steamed - for just under ten minutes and served with butter as a first course (as the French would prefer) or as an accompaniment to a main course of fish or meat. It cannot easily be bettered. Alternatively, try serving them the Genovese way. Simply provide 3 platters for the whole table. On one, arrange broad beans still in their shells, on another a salami, ideally the original sausage form rather than pre-sliced, and on the third a hunk of hard cheese. In Genoa, this would be the local, salty sheep’s cheese, Sardo, which you can often pick up here at specialist cheese shops, Waitrose or other large supermarkets. If you can’t find Sardo, Parmesan or fresh salty cream cheese would also work. Invite everyone to shell their own beans, cut their own cheese and slice some salami, and you will have provided a delicious and novel first course. To mix everything together in a big serving bowl into an indistinguishable morass would be to miss the point, and detract from the character of each ingredient.
Broad beans, Sardo cheese, and cheese and salami curing in Italy.
As the beans grow out of their first youth and become less tender, more intervention is required. Journeying south along the coast from Genoa, you’d eventually arrive in Rome, and you might come across the following dish:
Broad Beans with Bacon
125g butter or oil (or a mixture of both)
50g bacon, chopped
600g broad bean pods
1 small onion, or half a large one, peeled and chopped.
1. Melt the onion in the butter/oil.
2. Add the bacon and gently cook for 2 minutes.
3. Add the shelled broad beans.
4. Gently simmer for 5 minutes.
5. Add some water, just to cover the beans, no more.
6. Cook gently for about 25 minutes.
7. Serve on a warmed plate or platter.
Broad beans with Yoghurt
680g broad beans (already shelled)
2 tbsp rice
1-2 cloves garlic
small pot yoghurt
1 egg, beaten
Boil the shelled broad beans and rice separately. When cooked and strained, mix them together while still hot. Crush the garlic into the yoghurt and add salt and pepper to taste. Add to the bean and rice mixture. Heat gently and stir in the beaten egg. As soon as the sauce thickens, it is ready. This sits well alongside any meat or vegetarian main course.
Puree of broad beans
A few handfuls of young broad beans (using the whole pods)
2 medium potatoes
a knob of butter
a pinch of sugar
2 tbsp crème fraîche or double cream
salt and pepper
This is a recipe for those small, young broad bean pods. Top and tail a reasonable amount, use your own judgment, then chop the pods into pieces, not too small. Peel and dice the potatoes. Cook both the beans and potatoes in boiling water or steam until they are tender, then liquidise in a blender. Heat the puree in a bain marie (a porringer, or a smaller saucepan, inside a larger one, the latter half full of simmering water) with the butter, sugar, salt and pepper. Stir in a couple of tablespoons of crème fraîche or double cream before serving. This is a great background to fried or poached eggs, or lamb cutlets.