Monday, 8 May 2017

Broad Beans

It is a short season, but one worth waiting for - now is the time to pick and eat broad beans, while they are still as small as your fingernails, bursting with flavour and soft enough not to need skinning.

Size matters - pick your beans while they are still small

We plant broad beans just before winter gets underway and always sow a variety called Aquadulce Claudia, which is specifically suitable for overwintering in the ground. Simply push the beans, individually, into well cultivated soil at the planting distances specified on the pack. You will need to stake them once growth starts in the spring.

Sowing before the winter has a few benefits - not least the sense that you are getting ahead and are already looking forward to the next year's vegetable crops. The plants develop earlier - giving you an early crop and head start against the bean's biggest threat - black fly. These little flies attack the young growth of the broad bean plant and if left will ruin the plant and render the beans inedible. The trick is to nip out the tops of the bean plants as soon as you spot the beginnings of an infestation. Be ruthless; check them daily. Another alternative is to grow the herb summer savoury adjacent to your bean plants. It is said to repel black fly although I can't prove this.

A black fly infestation despite me having nipped out the top of the plant

Pick the beans regularly and before they get too big. Once the plant is finished cut it off at ground level. Compost the stem and leaves and dig in the roots. Members of the bean and pea family develop nodules on their roots which, through the action of a bacterium called rhizobium, will fix nitrogen in the soil, so never pull beans and peas out by the roots. Nitrogen increases the nutritional value of the soil significantly. It is the element which encourages green, leafy growth - so this benefits the next crop which you grown in this part of your vegetable patch; most especially green leafy plants such as salads, spinach and kales.

Bean plants in May, from beans planted last December

Last weekend we picked our first broad beans and using some store cupboard ingredients created this pasta sauce:

Broad Beans and Coppa with Linguini

Enough for two.


Podded broad beans - around a cup, beans no larger than your index fingernail.
100g pack of Coppa, sliced into strips.
2 shallots
Small glass of white wine
1 tablespoonful of chopped fresh thyme
4 tablespoonfuls of 15% fat creme fraiche
Olive oil, salt and pepper
Fresh Parmesan cheese, grated.

Add the broad beans to boiling salted water and cook for about five minutes, then drain.
Chop the shallots finely and, in a frying pan cook gently in some olive oil until soft and translucent.
Meanwhile cook the linguini in plenty of boiling water, adding salt and a dash of olive oil to the cooking water.
Add the white wine to the shallots and simmer gently for a couple of minutes then add the sliced coppa and the thyme.
Once the above is heated through add the beans and the creme fraich and continue to heat through gently.
Season with salt and pepper.
Drain the linguini reserving about a tablespoonful of the cooking liquid with the linguini to stop it from sticking.
Stir in the broad bean mixture, pile onto two plates and scatter the Parmesan on top.

The secret to this dish is not to cook the sauce aggressively - use a gentle heat throughout - and to use young, freshly picked broad beans.

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