17 December, 2008

Bean scene

Ah, the bean. For three splendid months of the year - normally September to November (though late-onset summer seemed to extend the season this year) - our weekly grocery shop consists of as many broad beans as we can carry, with whatever else we need a secondary pursuit. I eat kilos of the things, loving every moment of preparation and consumption.

Broad beans need to be podded - a joyful process, as peeling open their leathery green skins reveals a delightfully downy interior. Once you've freed the beans, blanch for three minutes, refresh in cold water, then slip the beans out of their skins. Use your thumbnail (or knife) to make a slit, then squeeze, and 'plop'! You're down to the good stuff.

The next step is deciding what to do with your vibrant green pile of legumous loveliness. Here are some of my favourite uses from this season:

Risi e bisi is a favourite dish year round, using frozen peas when the fresh ones are out of season. In spring, however, it takes on a new flavour spectrum with the addition of broad beans. I like to mush half the beans and stir them into the wet rice along with stock, adding the other half whole.

Many moons ago, a kitchen-savvy friend served me dinner of pork fillet with a rosemary, red wine and bacon jus. It remains in the Top 5 home-cooked meals I've had the pleasure to savour. And, as I'm wont to do, a couple of years ago I borrowed the idea and ran with it. Pork cutlets, followed by a preparation of the same jus, often grace our frying pan. Gerald's Bar recently inspired an update to that dish, and our last pair of cutlets came to the plate as braised pork on polenta with broad beans. With a little help from Aunty Stephie (which, by the way, was a gift from the same friend who cooked the original pork dinner), we winged a recipe and a method, and came away quite thrilled with the result.
Polenta featured again in a similar dish with a piece of chicken poached with in a simple broth of bay leaves, onion and seasoning.

They're not just for dinner though, those beans. In a home dish worthy of a cafe, mushed broad beans were spread on toasted bread, topped with homemade baked beans (maple syrup is the trick for great beans) and dotted with feta. A thoroughly fulfilling and pleasurable start to the day.
One Sunday night found me with that heavy feeling of cumulative excess from the weekend. When I thought of dinner, my body responded saying, 'Vegetables, hold the meat and carbs (and preferably the oil and butter'. Well, the only sensible answer there is to steam. Artichokes went in first, followed by some carrot to give them plenty of time to soften up, a few strips of asparagus, and lastly, the beans. I hadn't heard my body prohibit dairy, so feta featured once again. This dish was enormously flavoursome (when you cook in season, rich flavour comes guaranteed), filling enough for two meals, particularly wholesome and served the happy purpose of using up a range of ingredients bought for different meals throughout the week.
The last star dish before the bean bonanza began to wane featured a new meat: goat. Maggie Beer promotes this choice and, like lamb, it's best in spring. Queen Vic Markets have a couple of stockists, including Alec Watson (at the back of the Meat Hall). Even when fresh, it's a bit whoofy, so not a good one to handle if you're at all sensitive to fresh-meat smell. It cooks up a treat though - soft, rich and tender - when set to a slow stew with tomatoes, shallots and herbs. We love India on Lygon's version, but took a Mediterranean route, dishing up capretto al forno.
For now, though, it's time to put the bean steamer back in the cupboard. I do have one trick up my sleeve though - I've made a couple of broad bean dips (with garlic, lemon, a dash of paprika and some sour cream or yoghurt to smooth it out and boost volume) and popped them in the freezer, so I'll be able to sate my broad bean cravings at least a couple of times in the cooler months.

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