Monday, May 19, 2008

Go Broad Beans Go!

Oh. my. word. The first broad beans - the size of my smallest fingernail - are out. This is somewhat premature. I know. But the many books that are piled up beside my bed are always saying how wonderful it is if you grow your own beans, as you can pick them young and tiny, rather than huge and leathery.

Of course, the disadvantage of picking them young is that you get less podded weight (if you see what I mean) - a couple more weeks would allow them to fill out more. I mean, will allow them to fill out more. Because we do intend to let them grow properly now for a bit, before attacking them again.

But we couldn't resist a bagful on Saturday. Softened in butter with pine nuts and chopped sage, then stirred through spaghetti with crumbled feta, they were absolutely wonderful. Some wilted rocket would be a good addition to this.

2 handfuls broad beans - podded
1tbsp butter
2tbsp chopped sage

2tbsp pine nuts
100g crumbled feta
Spaghetti for 2 scant portions - cooked

Soften butter, throw in sage and pine nuts, then broad beans (pod alongside the pan). When the beans begin to change colour, immediately add the cooked spaghetti and stir to heat. Finally crumble in the feta - it will melt and vanish - and serve at once on hot plates.

Small they may be, but (if you make the effort to pick out a single bean while eating) each one tastes like Essence of Broad Bean. All the flavour's here: it just hasn't spread out into a larger surface area yet. Yum, yum, yum.

And this isn't intended to become a blog about growing, but I must also tell you about Oriental Saladini. We have tried growing lettuces before - Cos, Lollo Rossa, Arctic King, and numerous others - with no success whatsoever. But this Saladini mixture has come up trumps. It's Cut and Come Again, so you only need a strip of soil - sow thinly, and wait about 6 weeks before the first cut (possibly less time, now it's warmer). (If growing in the garden, try to choose a spot without nearby rocks or nooks where slugs gather. And surround each row, diligently, with used coffee grounds - this really works!) It's a lovely mixture of leaves, some soft and buttery, some peppery, some lime-green, some red. Alongside, if any more space is available to you, I'd recommend Swiss Chard - one of the coloured varieties - beautiful with its sunny stems. Then Rocket, any type, which is a truly trustworthy choice that never fails.

Okay. that's it. No more gardening stuff, at least until my pictures are downloaded!

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Jane Grigson free on Google?

I see it's not there in entirety, but there are rather a lot of pages from her Vegetable book available for viewing on Google. How would one go about finding her other works in the same place? And, how come, when I searched Google Books for food, I didn't find this one? Are some of the other classics on there? Eek, am I missing hundreds of wonderful cookery books on Google? Why did I not already know about this? Must hurry back.

Plus, now I can direct you to the source of Fasoulia*, the blissful bean dish that has come the closest I've found to Odyssea's heavenly Gigantes. We ate this alongside husband's roast shoulder of lamb (rubbed with olive oil and seasoned; seared in a hot roasting tray; scattered with rosemary sprigs and garlic cloves, and baked in the oven at 170 for 3 hours). Steamed potatoes and broccoli on a platter beside, and the table was groaning. Cooking the beans in a frightening cupful of olive oil before adding the tomatoes and water makes all the difference. Isn't it clever?

*cited by Jane Grigson, originally committed to paper by Elizabeth David.
Apple-Mint Mojito

Ahh, there's nothing like a 5pm Mojito to get the creative sparks flying. It's refreshing, it's mintily Cubalicious, it's escapism in a cocktail glass.

This is the main reason I grow mint in our garden. Apart from the occasional raita, it's called into service for mojitos only, and I love the fact that my favourite cocktail calls for a quick stroll into the sun. I am a keen mixologist, although I usually never have the right ingredients in the house, so it's more often an eccentric blend of whatever-we-have. A splash of Venetian Limoncello; a sploosh of pomegranate syrup; milk and caramel syrup. I do, though, keep a continuous stash of limes in the fridge. Lime, mint, and rum= a taste of heaven. Made just a little bit more wondrous with a sploosh of Monin's Apple Syrup. Somebody stop me!

Apple-mint mojito

3parts white rum
1part apple syrup
1part fresh lime juice
3-4 sprigs fresh mint

Best made ahead: steep the rum, lime, and mint in a shaker in the fridge. Using a spoon, press the mint against the inside of the shaker to bruise and release its oils. (This mix will keep for a whole weekend, if you can keep from it.) Add the syrup, tasting, when you're ready to serve. Pour into ice - half-filling a cocktail glass (this is heady stuff) - and top up with lemonade, mint sprigs, and optional extra lime. You'll soon have it just the way you like it.

For a classic mojito, just leave out the apple syrup.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008


It's our first year growing our own, and among the very earliest crops are the Broad Beans. They're getting tantalisingly close to readiness now; we've split and shared a few pods already. The beans cushioned inside are about quarter of the size of my thumbnail - teeny weeny little greens with an amazingly intense broad-bean flavour, and soft as if they'd been cooked. I wouldn't compare them with peas because it's a more savoury sweetness, a bit like parmesan somehow.

they're surprisingly high-yielding, too (at least I think they will be) - we've planted two rows of 12ft (30cm apart); each small, dry bean has produced two or three sturdy stems which flourished in the early spring and are preparing to provide us with two dozen pods each, I should think. And so, if you have a little space in your garden, this is one of the first crops I'd recommend. Broad beans, being one of the earliest producers, have all the excitement that surrounds our first summer veg (asparagus and new potatoes being similar). And - I'm ahead of myself - but they're already delicious.

So yes: please find a space for some next year. Sown in autumn, they are spectacularly low-maintenance - they'd grown big enough to keep the weeds from growing underfoot in spring - and promise much.

I'm flipping through books for recipes, now, and have bookmarked Broad Bean Pilaf from 'Vegetarian Dishes from the Middle East'. Think that Nigel Slater has a bean puree with flatbreads in The Kitchen Diaries, too. And Moro East will surely have something exciting for me to try. But I think these wonderful beans are best scantily adorned: maybe mashed with olive oil and wet garlic to spread on focaccia. Or, for this first harvest, perhaps we'll have a salad of just-steamed-and-shelled beans with freshly-cut Oriental Saladini and rocket. And guess what? We could even pull up some miniature potatoes, if we were feeling naughty. We accidentally discovered that they're already forming - even if they are pea-sized - and I am soooo tempted to sample them.

Photos coming very soon, really. I'm borrowing a cable this weekend, so prepare to be swamped with photographs of very clever little peas and gooseberry plants. They are my baby substitutes, but better, because I can alternate between having favourites.

Friday, May 02, 2008