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My early childhood experience of a broad beans (also known as fava beans) was a haunting one to say the least… Who knows, maybe that's why Hannibal Lector turned out the way he did because according to Silence of the Lambs, he used to enjoy them with a "nice chianti" and some poor blokes liver No wonder they've got such a lousy reputation!
Broad beans seem to have a much better reputation in Europe where they've even made it into fairy tales…remember Jack and the beanstalk? Yep, that was a broad bean stalk that took Jack up into the clouds. There's even a town in Germany that has the Broad Bean as its mascot! I received this as a gift from a German brother and sister while operating a backpackers a few years ago. Yes, they take broad beans very seriously!
When and How to grow them
Broad beans will grow happily over winter and are best planted around now (almost May) through to the end of winter. Peter Bennett, the author of the fantastic Australian Organic Gardening now in its 7th edition, is a big fan of later plantings as he argues the flowers won't set into pods if the weather is too cold. This year I'm placing a bet each way, so in addition to the crop I've already planted, I'll plant another in a month or so.
As they're part of the legume or bean and pea family, broad beans can be planted in a garden bed that's previously had a heavy feeding crop such as broccoli, lettuce, asian greens etc. While you won't need to specifically add any organic fertiliser, it's wise to add compost to the soil and in the case of broad beans sprinkle some potash and dolomite over the soil and work in prior to planting. This is one crop that grow best when planted from seed - don't bother getting seedlings as it will work out to be hideously expensive and you'll struggle not to damage their large root structure removing them from the punett.
Sow in rows about 50cm apart with the seeds spaced about 10cm apart. They're huge seeds so make sure they're sufficiently covered by soil (about 5cm). Water well once covered and don't worry about watering again until the seedlings have emerged (usually around 2 weeks). These guys will get quite tall (sometimes well over a metre) so it's important to support them from falling over, especially in the windy weather we get in spring. A good strategy is to plant in small plots so you can support a group of them together. Simply place stakes at each corner of the plot and loop pantyhose around the stakes so the broad beans are enclosed. Avoid using string as it can damage the plants in strong winds.
This is a photo of last year's crop about a month after planting. Leaving enough space between rows allows you to easily weed using a dutch hoe so no back breaking work and the weeds become a green mulch. These stakes will eventually provide support for the beans.
Cooking broad beans - one tip you can't miss!
Before I get to the tip an important medical fact with broad beans is that they should never be eaten raw by anyone taking antidepressants that contain monoamine inhibitors…the results can be fatal! Okay now the scary stuff is over the most important tip for making sure your broad beans never resemble those greyish looking horrors from our youth is to DOUBLE PEEL them. How? Well you simply take the beans out of their velvety pods and pop them into boiling water for 30 seconds. Take them out and refresh in cold water until cool enough to handle. You'll find the beans have an outer skin that can be removed with a small cut from a paring knife or long fingernails if your fortunate enough to have them. This will reveal a new, green bean within which I guarantee will change your life…well almost. This light blanching will be enough cooking for young tender beans, they'll just need rewarming when added to non-salad recipes.
Generally speaking broad beans are a fairly dense bit of veg, and if you simply serve up a bowl by themselves it's kind of like trying to eat half a cabbage. They are best when served with flavours that are going to cut through and enhance their veggie goodness. So think of strong cheeses (romano, parmesan, feta), bacon, panchetta or chorizo and of course my favourite - organic butter and sea salt.
They work really well with pasta dishes and can liven up stodgy dishes where other greens simply wilt away.
Once final recipe idea which I've stolen from Stephanie Alexander (which she stole from Stefano de Pieri and he probably stole from a little old Italian lady) is as follows:
As above, pod, blanch and peel your broad beans.
Crush them in a mortar with a pestle - if you don't have one you can do small pulses in a food processor making sure you don't overdo it - it's not a dip.
Remove into a clean bowl and mix with a grated hard cheese such as pecorino
Give them a good glug of some of our great local olive oil (I'm using extra virgin Camilo from Teesdale)
Season with ground black pepper and sea salt
Serve on toasted or better still grilled sourdough (make it La Madre or Zeally Bay) which has had a clove of garlic rubbed onto it
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My own addition is too add some marinated Meredith Goat Cheese just prior to serving it up - perfect if you want a light meal rather than an entree.
A perfect way to celebrate spring and enjoy a bruschetta type snack long before you're first tomato has ripened!