It's been a strange year for growing fruit and veg in England. As in the flower garden, my vegetable plot has raced through spring and summer with each crop being a fleeting affair. Even courgettes were not so prolific this year whereas last summer I was sinking under the weight of the crop. Borlotti beans have fared a little better. They are neither the easiest nor the most productive, but they are certainly the most beautiful legume to grow. Personally I dislike runner beans - the only vegetable I turn my nose up at - so I grow these beauties instead.
I have no time or space for starting plants off under glass so I plant straight into the ground around the second week of May and provide a wigwam of 2m canes for them to twine their way up. The pods start off green and go through to deep pink/white then purple marbling if you leave them on the plant long enough. It's best to harvest the pods when deep pink and obviously plump with beans. Leave them too long in the UK and they become vulnerable to pests and disease, particularly in wet weather.
If I get a good crop I leave some pods to dry on a well-ventilated windowsill for a couple of weeks before podding them and storing the beans in a jar. Later in the year I'll rehydrate them for use in a Ribollita soup, but mostly I'll use them fresh within a day or two of picking. This recipe is a favourite in my family. The method for cooking the beans is borrowed from Sally Clarke, though she uses a mixture of fresh herbs instead of gremolata to flavour the beans. I prefer the punchiness of this classic garlic, lemon zest and parsley mix.
|Borlotti beans with gremolata|
Borlotti Beans with Gremolata
Fresh Borlotti beans (you are unlikely to have a huge amount so whatever you have)
1 small onion
1 stick of celery
stalks from the parsley leaves used in the gremolata
1 clove of garlic
Salt and pepper
Extra virgin olive oil
For the gremolata:
1 clove of garlic, crushed to a paste
zest of half a lemon
a handful of parsley leaves, chopped
Pod the beans and place them in a pan. Add a few rough chunks of onion, carrot and celery, a bay leaf and a crushed garlic clove. Cover with water, bring to the boil then simmer for 30 minutes until the beans are tender. Add a good pinch of salt and a grinding of pepper and leave to cool in the liquor. You can refrigerate for 2-3 days at this point.
Drain the beans and remove the pieces of veg and the herbs. Put the beans in a bowl and marinate in olive oil. Mix the gremolata ingredients together and stir into the beans and olive oil.
I like to serve this on grilled sourdough as bruschetta, but it also goes well with slow-roasted tomatoes and mozzarella.
TIP: If only it was possible to preserve the wonderful colours of the uncooked beans. The reality is cooked beans lose almost all of that marbling. My friend, the chef, Carla Tomasi recommends adding a few drops of vinegar at the start of cooking and I'm convinced this does preserve a little of the colouring.