As I sit writing this, the final broad beans of the season are bubbling away in a pan on the hob. The bed they were in was straggly and messy and I finally bowed to the inevitable and pulled them all out.
As well as tasting wonderful, broad beans are part of the legume family so their roots harbour the Rhizobia bacteria which converts atmospheric nitrogen into a form that can be used by plants in the soil. So in a traditional crop rotation nitrogen hungry veg like potatoes, spinach or leafy brassicas are planted in the bed vacated by the legumes to take advantage of the nitrogen.
My gardening books told me to chop the beans off at ground level so that the nitrogen fixed in the nodules on the roots will stay in the soil, but some of my broad bean plants are big old beasts, so I pulled them up – carefully breaking off the nodules and dropping them back into the soil. I find that once I’ve overcome the initial reluctance to change and started to do something radical it can be quite satisfying to raze a bed to the ground.
In just over an hour the beans were out, the bed was hoed and replanted. There are three Cavolo Nero plants which have been sitting patiently in yoghurt pots and three which had been in with the brussel sprouts but had been overcrowded. I also planted two rows of Swiss Chard and two rows of Perpetual Spinach. I even persuaded my son to make me a cup of tea, so it really was a day of great achievements!
Back in the kitchen the shelling of the big old broad bean pods took a while. I separated them into the huge monsters which I’m going to make into Broad Bean Hummous and the smaller tastier ones. The smaller ones were the ones bubbling away in the pot when I started writing. I blanched them (boiled for just over a minute and then plunged into cold water with ice cubes in to stop the cooking). The icy water helped make the skins wrinkle so they’ll be easier to skin. I’ll freeze most of them and save a few for one of my favourite risottos…
Broad Bean and Pancetta Rissotto (enough for 3-4)
Making risotto requires a bit of patience, and lots of stirring, rather calming at the end of a busy day, if you’re in the right sort of mood.
Broad beans – couple of handfuls – skinned if they’re big and you can be bothered
Chicken stock – about a litre
300g Risotto Rice – Carnaroli or Arborio
2 cloves of garlic
2 sticks of celery
Glass of white wine
Salt & Pepper
chives or parsley
Put a couple of tablespoons of olive oil into a frying pan and add the chopped pancetta. Fry over a medium heat until slightly crispy. Turn the heat down slightly (add a knob of butter here if you care more about taste than your waistline), add the chopped onion and sweat until translucent and just beginning to colour. Chop the celery quite small and chop or mince the garlic. Add to the pan and cook for a couple of minutes.
Put your stock in a pan on the hob next to your frying pan and heat through. It should be hot but not boiling when its added to the rice.
Next add the rice to the pan and stir for a minute or two to coat the grains with the oil. Don’t be tempted to add the stock immediately, you need to briefly saute the rice in the oil at this point until it goes slightly translucent but doesn’t colour. Next add a glass of dry white wine and stir until fully absorbed. Add the hot chicken stock, a ladle at a time, stirring throughout as the liquid is absorbed. Don’t pour all the stock in at once. After each ladle, allow it to be absorbed before adding the next ladle, but not dry and sticking to the bottom of the pan. The stirring helps the rice to release its starches to make the risotto creamy. The whole process will take about 15-20 minutes, during which time you shouldn’t really do anything else except stirring, although you should be able to wash some salad leaves for a salad. After about 10 minutes add your broad beans so that they will cook with the rice in the stock for the last five minutes.
After the last ladle of stock is in, turn the heat down low so it doesn’t dry out. Add a knob of butter and grate over 2-3 tablespoons of parmesan cheese. Season to taste. When serving add more grated parmesan and a little chopped chives or parsley on each plate. Serve with a crisp green salad