I’ve been trying to think of which foods are still truly seasonal. There aren’t many really – even the asparagus season is being lengthened by the supermarkets with imports from as far away as South America. I reckon it may be down to the vegetables are at their best when they’re home grown to bring seasonality into the kitchen. Asparagus would no doubt count as one of these, and broad beans another. So, let’s celebrate broad bean season!
Growing your own broad beans is just about the only way to get them at the perfect size, and be able to eat them soon after picking for the best flavour. And home grown means you can pinch out the tips of the plants to add to risottos or soups – pea tips may be available from the local supermarket now, but broad bean tips is a tasty treat that no one has commercialised yet.
My beans were sown back in early spring. They started out life in the greenhouse, with individual seeds planted in the cardboard tubes from inside loo rolls. The tubes were filled with compost and stood together in an old pot to keep them upright. This wasn’t just a case of looking for ways to recycle junk – the idea is that when it comes to planting out the young beans there is less disturbance to the roots, you can just plant the whole tube into the ground. Done carefully the plant should be completely unaware of its move from pot to veg plot – clever, eh? It looks like it works too, the beans have grown on well despite, or perhaps because of, all the rain. They’ve been a bit battered by the wind, but survived hailstorms unscathed.
Now the pods are ready to pick. The beans are supposed to taste best when they are no bigger than a thumbnail. Even at this size, it’s worth removing the skins from the beans after they’re cooked to make sure they taste as good as possible. The skins turn an uninspiring grey-green colour anyway when they are cooked, so popping the bright green beans out of their skins is visually pleasing too. It does mean an extra job, (and scalded fingers too if you’re not careful!), but it’s worth it.
I decided to turn my bowlful of broad beans into some sophisticated beans on toast, using the recipe for broad bean and mint bruschetta from Jacqueline’s blog – How to be a Gourmand. And it was good, really good – crispy toasted bread coated with garlic and oil, and topped with a fresh minty beans, the recipe combines some of my favourite flavours. But then of course, I never can just use a recipe without trying out some variation. This is often because I don’t have all the ingredients that the recipe needs in the cupboard, and a 21/2 mile trip to the nearest shop encourages some creativity and substitution. This time, with a glut of coriander leaves needing used before the plants start to flower, I combined the cooked and skinned broad beans with lime juice, finely chopped red chilli, coriander leaves, and a good grinding of sea salt. This mixture then topped the garlic and oil flavoured slices of bread, and made another great bruschetta – fresh and with a hint of heat from the chilli. A combination of the two would make a great summer lunch, or maybe as a starter for a summer dinner, or with a glass of white wine on a warm evening …