Broad beans are gorgeously green, and have a deep mineral flavour and slight bitterness that is not enhanced when they are boiled and served plainly. Broad beans shine when they are paired with bacon, prosciutto, or Italian sausage. They love dill and yoghurt. Garlic and thyme are excellent companions. They make a borscht more interesting and stand up to the heady flavours of beet and vinegar. Broad beans taste as ancient as they likely are, and some writers suggest they were one of the first cultivated beans going as far back as ancient Egypt.
In this year’s bean bed I planted broad beans (favas) amongst the runner beans. They grow almost three feet tall and have silvery leaves that shimmer in the late evening twilight. Under the right conditions they flower generously and produce their eye catching white and black blossoms. Visitors wandering through my garden pause at them and ask what they are with interested curiosity. The broad beans did not produce very well this year, though they did flower a second time, probably because I overcrowded them. The final harvest occurred earlier this week just ahead the season’s first frost.
Broad Beans are most often podded prior to being cooked with. This occurs not quite like podding peas, but by snapping the pod and pressing the bean out one by one. I fondly remember a summer supper where friends arrived early at our summer-house at the farm and we sat under the shade of a tree drinking wine, and podding the beans, while catching up on important news and gossip. Broad beans do that; they encourage visiting and laughter, and pleasant busy work. If it is not completely apparent, I quite like broad beans.
If broad beans are harvested young, not much larger than the size of a green pea, they can be cooked whole. Their pods at this early stage are full of green grassy flavour and they have a firm texture. We use them this way in a Turkish stew passed to us by a Turkish friend. Cooking broad beans whole helps stretch the harvest when the crop is small or not producing well. It also allows for broad bean eating earlier.
Turkish Broad Bean Stew with Dill
Sautee ground meat in a generous splash of olive oil in a deep cast iron pot (we use beef at our friend’s recommendation, but lamb would likely be very good). Once browned toss in a chopped onion, a generous handful (half cup?) of fresh dill and 3-4 large tomatoes, fresh or tinned. Season well with grey sea salt and a grinding of pepper. Once a sauce starts to consolidate, add three good handfuls of washed whole fava beans (I had also thrown in a few yellow runner beans because they were ready for picking at the time) whose tail end has been pinched off. We normally use them when they are the size of a large green pea and a bit larger, though even larger ones are just fine. Simmer gently until the beans are tender. Finish with a good drizzle of olive oil and a good quantity of chopped dill. Adjust seasoning and serve on basmati rice, with boiled new potatoes, or with good flat bread.
To freshen this and to add crunch we topped with a salad of thinly sliced carrots dressed with lemon, salt and pepper and olive oil, and tossed with rough chopped parsley. We also occasionally serve it with thick greek yoghurt, chopped dill and cucumber, and a quarter of a crushed garlic clove. Call the yoghurt dip Cacik if you like.
Broad Bean and Italian Sausage Pasta
Garlic, thyme, grey sea salt and pepper are added to two Italian sausages that were first removed from their casings before being browned carefully in a drizzle of olive oil in a heavy cast iron pan. Par boil the broad beans and, if you like, tear away the pale green outer skin on the larger beans. Smaller beans don’t require this. Season the sauce well with grey sea salt and a grinding of pepper. The pan can be deglazed with whatever wine you are serving the dish with.
Toss the beans with your pasta shape of your choice. Most often we use a wide papparadelle or the little ear shaped orrechietti. This time it was linguini. Save a bit of the pasta cooking water to bring the sauce and pasta together in a warm serving bowl. Finish with a good drizzle of olive oil and a generous shaving of parmesan or pecorino romano. Excellent with a good Italian red wine.