A FILOFACTS ON BROAD BEANS

Bee Wilson on broad beans, Stella Mag, Telegraph, May 2014:

For years I accepted the orthodoxy that frozen broad beans will do almost as well as fresh.

Some fresh broad bean pods had come in our veg box so, on a whim, I included them in the family supper. Podding the beans was therapy in itself. It’s a curious pleasure to feel the downy insides and extract the pale kidney-shaped beans. I blanched them for three minutes, then pinched out the grass-green insides. Warmed in butter with spinach, mint and garlic, the beans made a workaday pilaf of leftover roast chicken special.

After this, I realised I should stop viewing broad beans as an always-in the-freezer standby and start seeing them as a seasonal treat, like asparagus or artichokes. When fresh and young enough, you can serve them raw from the pods, with Parma ham or sharp sheep’s cheese, as the Italians do. Another way to showcase fresh beans is in Lucas Hollweg’s “peas, broad beans and ricotta on toast”, from his wonderful Good Things to Eat (Collins, £20). He rightly says this combination of beans, peas, ricotta, oil and mint on garlic-rubbed toast tastes like “a mouthful of early summer”. With frozen beans, the sparkle and crunch would be gone.

Freshly podded beans do not always delight. The pulse expert Jenny Chandler complains that some gardeners “feel that a broad bean is only worth harvesting once it’s a leathery giant”. You can boil such a bean for a quarter of an hour, and it still won’t tenderise. They are only fit for drying, as peasants once did throughout Europe for winter protein. Over-large specimens can make you see why there used to be a prejudice against broad beans, which were seen as windy and indigestible food for the poor. Frozen broad beans – which are never too big – are definitely more acceptable than the most elderly fresh ones.

Tiny fresh beans, though, are joyous. I have enjoyed infant beans podded, boiled and tossed with parsley and butter, as a springlike companion to ham; or made into a delicate green stew with asparagus and herbs and cream, to eat with tagliatelle. Half the pleasure of such a dish is knowing that you can eat it for only a few short early-summer weeks. Frozen just wouldn’t be the same.

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