Last year I came across a few recipes for fresh borlotti beans, so I decided to grow some. I wasn’t hopeful of success, but I was very pleasantly surprised. They grow very well in our garden. You can eat them when young, as runner beans, or leave to mature on the plant and pod them to use like dried beans. They cook in half the time and have double the flavour. You can store them in the freezer straight from the pod and cook from frozen.
For all the recipes, you need to pod and cook the beans first, but they’ll only need ½ an hour. Allow ½ cup shelled beans per person and roughly double the quantity of water. You could cook them with ½ an onion, ½ a garlic clove and a bouquet garni for extra flavour. A Parmesan rind is good in a bouquet garni with beans.
I started with a Martha Rose Shulman recipe from the New York Times, delightfully named Shell Bean Ragout. I assume from her description of shell beans, that this is an American term for fresh beans in their pods rather than canned. She calls them cranberry beans and suggests you can also use young runner beans or young cannellini beans. Perhaps a mix if you are a prolific bean grower.
To make the ragout, gently sauté 1-2 sliced leeks and a stick of celery, diced. When they are softened add a crushed garlic clove and cook for ½ a minute then add a tin of tomatoes. As this is a summer dish, if you have a bountiful crop, substitute a cup of fresh peeled, seeded, chopped tomatoes. Season well and cook until the tomatoes have cooked down, about 30 minutes.
Discard the onion and garlic from the beans but leave them in the cooking water. Stir the leek and tomato mix into the beans along with a coarsely diced zucchini or other summer squash. Scallopini would be good here. Simmer until the beans are creamy tender but not disintegrating and all the vegetables are soft. Remove the bouquet garni. Serve with chopped basil and top with Parmesan.
Lois Daish had a wonderful summery stew in the Listener from March 5, 2005, and I added borlotti beans to that. I had been given a kamokamo while on holiday and I had been looking for a recipe to use it. With all its summery goodness it seemed perfect to add a handful of cooked borlotti beans. Sauté finely chopped onion, add crushed garlic and a red or yellow capsicum, cut into chunks. Halve the kamokamo, peel and deseed then cut into chunks. If you don’t have a kamokamo use zucchini or scallopini. Add these to the pan along with some fresh corn scraped off the cob. Add the borlotti beans and a little of their cooking liquid, season, partially cover the pan and cook over a low heat about 20 minutes until the vegetables are tender. You shouldn’t need to add any additional liquid. Add 3-4 blanched, peeled and chopped fresh tomatoes and cook another five minutes. If you need to use tinned tomatoes add them with the borlotti beans.
Jamie Oliver is another fan of borlotti beans. In the Naked Chef on p 172 I found the perfect risotto recipe with borlotti beans and then I tweaked it. Jamie Oliver has a basic risotto recipe and if you don’t already have a favourite then I suggest using his. I wrote about risotto in a blog post back in 2009 but there is not much difference. For this version I added a little diced fennel with the onion plus some diced pancetta and a pork and fennel sausage, skin off, crumbled into the pan. Also add some finely chopped rosemary. Add the cooked borlotti beans when the rice is nearly done. I always rest my risotto at the end with a knob of butter and a squeeze of lemon juice. Serve with grated Parmesan.
In Jamie at Home on p 50 I found a recipe for Barnsley chops with borlotti beans and rainbow chard. A Barnsley chop is a great favourite with Jamie Oliver, and it is rather good. It is a cross-section taken from right across the lamb’s loin, producing a double-sided chop with a bone in the middle and a little fillet underneath. I have an excellent butcher, a short walk from my house, but If you don’t have access to a good butcher, regular loin chops will be great. Season the chops and sear both sides in an ovenproof pan then finish them in a hot oven for 10-15 minutes. Serve the chops with Jamie Oliver’s salsa verde.
Although every recipe tells me to, I do not blanch my chard, I trim the stalks, finely slice them and soften with a finely chopped shallot. I roughly chop the chard leaves and gently wilt in the pan, then season and dress with olive oil and a little lemon zest and juice. Add the cooked borlotti beans to the pan just before adding the leaves. Serve alongside the chops.
If all this feels a bit summery, I am telling you now so that you too feel inspired to get your borlotti beans into the garden in the spring, which we hope isn’t too far away. We have had the coldest wettest winter I ever recall in Wellington so it’s lovely to look a little ahead and plant for the summer bounty.