In the first of a new series of articles exploring the versatility of seasonal produce, former Sienna restaurant chef-proprietor Russell Brown marvels at the magic of broad beans
The broad bean (vici faba), also known as the fava bean, has its origins in North Africa and South Asia, but is now widely cultivated across the world. The fresh beans are best eaten young and as soon after picking as possible. Once picked, as with other pulses, the sugars start to convert to carbohydrates and older beans can have a starchy, mealy texture as well as a more pronounced bitterness.
The culinary uses are myriad and vary hugely across the globe, from deep-fried or roasted beans in Spain (habas fritas), to a bean flour in Ethiopia. The most common use in the UK is as a fresh vegetable accompaniment. The beans are podded and blanched briefly in boiling salted water and refreshed, before being squeezed from their chewy grey skins. They can then be finished by warming in a sauce, stirred into pasta dishes and risottos or heated in a butter emulsion. In Italy they are popular raw with sharp cheese, such as Pecorino Romano. As the season progresses, longer, slower cooking methods will negate the more starchy texture.
One kilo of fresh beans in the pod will yield around 300g of podded beans which, once blanched and skinned, yields around 140-160g.
- Choose bright, firm pods that are full
- Choose small pods
- Avoid pods with brown marks, which may be a fungal disease known as broad bean rust
- The season is weather dependent but generally runs from the end of June until mid-August
- Pods that are picked too young can be empty, so squeeze the pods to check
- Whole pods are best stored in plastic bags in the fridge or a cool place
- Blanched beans will keep for two to three days in the fridge
As the time from picking to consumption is so critical, if a supply of really fresh beans is unavailable, then the frozen product is a good alternative. The beans are easy to squeeze from their skins when still partially frozen and are usually very tender. No cooking should be needed before adding to dishes such as risotto.
The season has started well and the prospects are good for the coming months as long as there is some rainfall. A prolonged dry spell will be detrimental to the crop. The price is sensible – expect to pay from £1.50 to £1.70 per kilo. Growers such as Chris West in North Petherton, Somerset, use several different varieties of broad beans and sow sequentially to give a consistent crop across the season. Many of the varieties are modern hybrids with flavour, not volume, being the key consideration.
Broad bean bruschetta with fresh goats’ curd
- 300g blanched and peeled broad beans
- 75ml fresh vegetable stock
- 20g butter
- 120g olive oil, plus extra for the bread and to garnish
- Maldon salt and fresh ground black pepper
- 6 large slices of rustic bread
- 1 clove of garlic
- 125g goats’ curd or soft, fresh goats’ cheese, beaten
Place the beans in a small pan with the vegetable stock and heat rapidly, reducing the stock by half. Crush the beans with the butter and olive oil and season well.
Drizzle the bread slices with oil and sprinkle on a little salt. Chargrill and then rub with the garlic clove.
Divide the crushed beans between the chargrilled bread and spoon on the goats’ curd. Finish with a drizzle of your best olive oil.
Ricotta agnolotti with broad beans and truffle butter
For the agnolotti
- 250g ricotta, drained
- 1 egg yolk
- 65g finely grated Parmesan or Old Winchester
- Maldon sea salt and fresh ground black pepper
- 400g pasta dough
- Egg yolk wash to assemble
For the truffle butter sauce
- 6tbs vegetable stock reduction
- 75g unsalted butter
- 20g truffle paste
- 180g blanched and peeled broad beans
- Maldon salt
- Parmesan or Old Winchester shavings
- Olive oil
First make the agnolotti; push the ricotta through a sieve and blend in the egg yolk and grated cheese before seasoning well. Transfer the mix to a piping bag with a 1cm plain nozzle. The mix should almost taste over-seasoned to come through in the pasta.
Roll out the pasta dough to the point where you can just see your fingers through it. Pipe a line of ricotta mix 2cm in from the long edge nearest you. Egg wash lightly and fold the pasta over as if making a sausage roll. Trim the pasta off using a fluted pastry wheel a thumb’s width beyond the far edge of the ricotta tube.
If the pasta is wide enough, reserve to repeat. Keep the pasta covered with cling film while you are finishing the first strip.
Squeeze the ricotta tube at 2cm intervals to leave sealed sections clear of filling. Divide into individual pieces by cutting in the gaps with the fluted cutter, using your other hand to help the pasta turn over, creating the pocket as it is sealed.
Transfer the agnolotti to a semolina-covered tray and store uncovered in the fridge. The pasta can be kept like this for two days. It can also be blast-frozen and stored in the freezer.
For service, heat the vegetable stock reduction and whisk in the cold, diced butter to form an emulsion, then add the truffle paste and season to taste. Cook the pasta in boiling water for two to four minutes depending on how much it has dried in the fridge. Drain lightly and add to the truffle sauce. Add the broad beans and toss together, allow to cook gently for a few minutes to warm the beans, but avoid boiling the sauce.
Serve in warm, shallow bowls and garnish with a few flakes of cheese and a drizzle of best-quality extra virgin olive oil.
Vegetable stock reduction
- 100ml Noilly Prat
- 250ml dry white wine
- 750ml fresh vegetable stock
Reduce the alcohols in a heavy-based pan to around 100ml, then add the vegetable stock and reduce by three quarters. Pass through a fine chinois and chill.
The reduction should taste intense and fairly sharp. It will keep in the fridge for 10 days.
Russell Brown ran the Michelin-starred, three-AA-rosette Sienna restaurant in Dorchester, Dorset, for 12 years with his wife Eléna. He launched his website and consultancy business Creative about Cuisine earlier this year. He specialises in restaurant consultancy and photography.www.creativeaboutcuisine.com
Latest video from The Caterer