Bacon and broad beans

I’ve got the culinary equivalent of the annoyingly catchy tune going round in my head at the moment. It’s like the scene from the film ‘Touching the Void’ where the climber with the broken leg is crawling half-conscious down a barren Andean mountainside. All he can hear as he nears death is Boney M’s ‘Brown Girl in the Ring’ playing over and over again in his mind.

I’ve had a similar experience recently with this idea I’ve had for a simple dish of bacon, broad beans and orecchiete (ear-shaped) pasta. It haunts my every waking moment.

My first attempt misfired after adding broad bean pod puree to the finished mix. The offending substance can be seen in the photo above – it’s the grey-green mush in the dark brown bowl.

Tonight I gave it another go in an attempt to exorcise my gastro-demons. And, hallelujah, I think I’m there. Almost.

Oregano and parmesan

Broad Bean, Bacon and Orecchiete

I reckon you’d want almost equal quantities of beans, bacon and pasta to get the balance of flavour and texture right.

1. Get some nice thick fatty chunks of bacon and fry ’em softly until the fat runs and they start to crisp nicely.

2. Boil some podded broad beans and, when they’re almost tender, drain them and pop them out their skins. Put the little blighters in a bowl and season well. Stir in some fresh oregano or marjoram leaves at this point, if you’re lucky enough to have some lying around.

3. Boil a big pan of water and cook the Orecchiete until al dente. If you’re in the UK, you can get this sturdy, no-nonsense pasta shape from Sainsburys. I reckon any small, stubby type of pasta would do the job.

4. Mix the pasta, beans and bacon in a bowl together, and add a couple of tablespoons of thick double cream. Stir in fresh grated parmesan and let the cream and cheese melt together and coat everything.

5. Er… yeah, that’s it. I’m still not sure about the cream. Maybe it’s too rich. Or maybe I just need to relax and move on…. Brown girl in the ring tra-la-la-la, and she looks like a sugar in a plum.

Plum plum.


Broad bean pod puree

July 18, 2006

Broadbean pods bubbling

For a while now I’ve been meaning to do something with the pile of broad bean pods which are always leftover after a hearty bean-shucking session. A lazy Sunday morning has given me the opportunity to experiment with cooking these plump and hairy little critters.

Being a cook of cautious temperament, I went as usual for advice to my number one mentor in all matters vegetable, Jane Grigson. This recipe is more or less a direct rip-off of hers, although the nutmeg was my humble addition.

Broad bean pod puree
1. Boil a big pan of salty water. Remove black spots and stringy bits from the bean pods and thrown into the roiling water. Leave them until they’re tender. By the end I had some scum on the surface of the water which needed skimming off. Drain, keeping the water.

2. Pass the soft pods through a mouli-legume (food mill) back into the pan, using the attachment with the largest holes. Or rubbing through a sieve would do the job I guess. This will remove the stringy skins of the pod and leave a slightly watery mush. Stir this for a minute or three over a medium heat to remove the excess moisture.

3. Finally, I seasoned the mush well and added a generous knob of butter and a grate or two of fresh nutmeg. And that’s it, folks.

It tastes delicious, although you only get a small cup-full from a large pile of pods. We’re going to have it for lunch as a thick sauce with slabs of salty bacon and a clean, simple, crisp salad. And, hopefully, a glass or two of white wine.

And then I’m going to snooze in the garden – knotted hanky on my head and pale English legs slowly turning pink in the hazy London sun.

Courgette pasta sauce

Gastropunk and Maths chick have been strangely absent from the kitchen of late. We’ve both been busy: stag-do’s, family re-unions, and watching England’s latest crop of turnips losing to the pork-and-cheese again have all distracted us from more important matters. Like celebrating the glories of the British organic veg-box.

This week’s box brought a mixed bunch. More furry broad beans, snappy sugar-snap peas, lettuce, calabrese. Loads of green stuff. Almost too much green. Now I find myself craving a knobbly old root vegetable – the veg-box is always greener on the other side, I guess. The first disappointment of the vegbox year – an old, wrinkly cucumber on the verge of being compost-fodder. We hid it’s defects in a boisterous greek salad.

This week’s broad beans we left in the shells and boiled with mint, then added steamed brocolli and big salty lumps of feta cheese and chunks of stale french stick. It looked a real dog’s dinner in the pan but ended up tasting fine and dandy. The bread soaked up the escaping garlicky juices. An eccentric British version of the famous stale-bread and tomato salads (panzanella) of Tuscany. A sharp detox dinner for our two alcohol-battered bodies. We both agreed that broad beans in their shells are equally as delicious as their more sophisticated de-jacketed brethren. But then we are a lazy pair of moos and could be making a virtue of a necessity.

For lunch, I’ve just transformed a fat, firm courgette into my all-time favourite pasta sauce (today I’m ‘working from home’ – the 21st century’s happiest euphemism). Grate a whole courgette. Heat olive oil over a low flame and add a couple of mashed garlic cloves and several salty anchovy fillets. Allow everything to melt together slowly. Add the courgettes and cook until they collapse into an oily thick mush. Stir into spaghetti, add grated parmesan and a peppery olive oil at the table.

For me, anchovies are the Wayne Rooney of the kitchen – ugly, violent little critters that bring life and sparkle to otherwise hum-drum ingredients. All together now.. Roooon-iee, Roooon-ieee….

Broad bean ramblings

June 24, 2006

Podding broad beans

Originally uploaded by tostadora.

Popping broad beans out of their fat furry pods is the easy bit. Then you’ve got to cook them and, if you’re dedicated to the quest for vegetable nirvana, squeeze each one of them out of their wrinkled grey-green jackets. What you have left is a small bowl of shiny bright green kidney-shaped little critters.

How to describe the flavour of broad beans? Maths chick says ‘Nutty, but more pea-y than nutty’. ‘They taste green’. ‘Like pea but more nutty’. We both agree the texture is almost more memorable than the flavour. A grainy, dense, firm texture.

In Spain we had them served as a tapa with cervezas in a cafe on the plaza at Trujillo – they were dried, brown, crunchy, and extremely salty. But very Moorish.

Minty beans
This afternoon we coarsely mashed our bowl of beans with a boiled potato (for body), olive oil, mint. A fresh, fragrant, filling dip to have with bread or pitta. A violent-green houmous. The mint was a dominant flavour – perhaps too strident. A small amount of this herb would probably help coax out the shy flavour of the bean – too much bullies them back into their shell.

Now I’ve got a whole pile of broad bean pods I’m reluctant to bung in the compost bin. Lurking in one of my more eccentric cook books I’m sure there’s a recipe for broad bean pod stew or some other Good Life-style lunacy. Hugh F-W would feed them to his pigs. Maybe I should use them to fatten up one of the local squirrels in time for Christmas.

Bizarre experience of the day: walking through Hampstead Heath hearing Art Garfunkel, in person, singing Bright Eyes (he was giving a concert in Kenwood House) while cutsey little bunnies hopped around a few yards away. As a member of the Watership Down generation this moment was ridiculous and wonderful in equal proportions.