Tuesday, 7 June 2011

Never bored with broad beans

The broad bean is a funny thing, with its fur lined pod, a rather thick skin and a very distinctive flavour. It has a fairly short season – although having said that I did notice last year that it was around for rather longer than usual. Not that that is necessarily a bad thing because I love broad beans; as long as they are picked while still young and tender; otherwise they go tough. When I lived in Cornwall the pods were often harvested while little more than pea size and the whole thing, pod and baby beans cooked as one, like mange tout.
I like to think of the broad bean as being quintessentially English; it appears in our gardens at just the same moment that wild salmon comes into season and at the same time as the first waxy new potatoes are pulled. Add some rich made mayonnaise or hollandaise and you have a simple seasonal meal that is simply manna from heaven. However the Italians are rather partial to them too. They eat them raw with pecorino cheese (sublime) mix them into pesto and serve with gnocchi or stir them into pasta dishes. The Spanish toss them in fried, chopped, spicy, chorizo and the Turks make a gorgeous, slightly sweet hummus type puree to serve with flatbreads.
Some people like to skin the beans; the bean inside is a beautiful vibrant green colour – but take off that rather flabby dull green skin and the bean loses its character. Yes it is tenderer, yes it is sweeter, but I think the skin gives the bean a distinctive flavour and special texture. Boil in salted water and serve, drained with chopped mint or savory and melted butter or even a light bĂ©chamel sauce but best of all to my mind, toss them in olive oil and finely chopped flat leaf parsley, leave to cool a little and serve. Any leftovers can be added to salads.

Quills with broad beans, tomato, pecorino shards and flat leaf parsley

1.5 - 2 kg fresh young broad beans shelled
Bunch of spring onions, finely chopped
Handful of flat leaf parsley, finely chopped
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
400 g whole tinned plum tomatoes, drained deseeded and chopped or fresh skinned ones.
500 g good quality quills
100 g grated pecorino cheese
100g pecorino cheese shavings
Extra virgin olive oil
Salt and milled black pepper


Put a large pan of salted water on to boil.
Blanch the shelled beans in a small pan of boiling water for 2 or 3 minutes or until tender.
Cover the base of a large wok with extra virgin olive oil and put on medium heat, add the finely chopped spring onion and stir fry for a minute, add the shelled beans, the mustard, salt and pepper and stir fry for another minute. Then add the prepared tomato and half the chopped parsley and cook to allow the flavours to blend – say 2-3 minutes.
When the large pan of water comes to the boil, add the pasta and cook according to the recommended cooking time on the packet. When ready strain into a large bowl.
Add the broad bean and tomato sauce, half the grated pecorino cheese, half the chopped parsley and mix well. Scatter the pecorino shavings and the remaining parsley on top and drizzle with extra virgin olive oil if liked.
Serve at once with extra grated pecorino cheese.