Thursday, September 20, 2007

Small pleasures

Huge crates of asparagus are appearing at the market, beautifully boxed, heads held high, their necks gracefully, delicately, bowed. Asparagus is the star of spring. Undeniably. Love the stuff. But I’ve been waiting for an older, ancient crop, one a little less regal. One of the oldest domesticated plants. One with a suitably rich and varied history.

Broad beans or fava beans, tend to evoke bad responses from many (mostly English) people. My father takes great exception to them (though he's not English, so there goes that theory). I have a sneaky recipe up my sleeve for just such a person, a salad, one that uses broad beans, double-peeled and generously dressed with lemon, garlic, olive oil, smoked paprika and cumin. A tin of chickpeas, drained and rinsed is tossed in along with massive amounts of fresh coriander and parsley. I’ve not met a soul who didn’t fall for it – there’s hope for the unconvinced yet. Once peeled you can roughly pestle them to make a chunky sort of pesto mixed with some fresh mint, chives and goats cheese. Great piled high on garlicky toast. Another winner.

Split the pods and you’ll find them softly swaddled, like precious, sleeping babies. Peel away those skins and they emerge naked, a bright lime green. Delicious. In Greece broad beans are served raw, the whole pods dropped in a loose tangle in the centre of the table, a bottle of ouzo placed on the side. I can’t help myself when podding – raw they possess a crunch and green-ness unmatched by the more pedestrian pea. One for the pot, one for me. You don’t even need the ouzo, really.

A tough, grey, water-logged bean is a waste of both your time and energy. Blanch the podded beans in rapidly boiling water for sixty seconds, refresh them in ice-cold water and drain thoroughly before slipping off each bean’s little pale overcoat. An easy enough task, yes, but I sometimes prefer patiently peeling them, unblanched, with a sturdy thumbnail. Releasing each bean, dropping it into a bowl and hearing it plink against the surface offers a gentle, rhythmical sound, one that nearly manages to cancel out the screeching and honking of peak hour traffic filtering into the garden. Nearly.

I’m writing this now because I want to make use of the Australian spring before we disappear for a few weeks. Make hay while the sun shines as the saying goes. Spring here is short-lived; the transition from gentle warm days to fierce summer heat happens in the blink of an eye in this drought-ravaged country. And the Artist and myself are leaving on the first of October for a much needed holiday. New York, Madrid and a blissful week roaming the beaches of San Sebastian, sketchbooks and notebooks in hand. And wouldn’t you know it? Right smack bang in the middle of our spring.

Spring vegetable ragoût – generously serves 4

The ravioli or gnocchi is an addition, a good one, that will make this meal more substantial. Get them cooking while you chop the vegetables, that way they’ll be ready to slip in when the time is right. And don’t for even a second think that I would suggest you make your own here. Not even I am a martyr to that cause.

2 big handfuls of broad beans in the pod
750g (about 1 ½ lbs) of asparagus
1 bunch of baby carrots
1 large handful of snow peas
1 tablespoon of olive oil
1 tablespoon of butter
1 onion, peeled and finely chopped
Small palmful of thyme leaves
½ cup of dry white wine
1 cup of water
Sea salt
Large handful of baby spinach or sorrel leaves, washed
2 handfuls of spinach & ricotta ravioli or gnocchi, cooked
100g (about 3oz) of soft goat’s cheese (optional)
Small handful of parsley, finely chopped
Extra virgin olive oil or butter, to serve
1 lemon, sliced into wedges

Pod the broad beans. Peel the pale green layer from any beans that are larger than your thumbnail. Set aside.

Snap off and discard the woody ends of the asparagus by taking the spear between both hands and bending it. Where it seems to want to snap naturally is exactly where you should do so. Slice the spears diagonally into three. Set aside.

Remove the feathery tops from the carrots, leaving about 1-2 cm’s of stalk attached to each one. Any carrots thicker than your index finger should be halved lengthways.

Thinly slice the snow peas on the diagonal. Set aside with the broad beans.

Warm the butter and oil together in a large, lidded frying pan or a wide, heat-proof casserole over a medium heat. Add the onion, thyme and carrots and fry, stirring often, for 5 minutes or until lightly coloured. Pour in the wine and let it bubble away to almost nothing. Add the water, followed by the asparagus and a good pinch of salt. Place the lid on, lower the heat and cook for 6 minutes or until the vegetables are tender at knife point.

Lift the lid, give it all a gentle stir and drop in the broad beans, snow peas and spinach leaves. Replace the lid and continue to cook for another 2-3 minutes.

Turn off the heat, lift the lid and drop in the cooked ravioli or gnocchi. Gently stir. Crumble over the goat’s cheese. Sprinkle with the chopped parsley and drizzle with a spoonful (or more) of extra virgin olive oil (or butter). Replace the lid and rest for a moment or two.

Serve in wide soup plates with the wedges of lemon.


Callipygia said...

Where I live it is hard to find fresh favas. Truly delicious in spite of the work. I end up using shelled edamame and will try some of your suggestions.

Christina said...

Beautiful. And to top it off, I just purchased my fava bean seeds today, then came home and read this post.

Did you know that you can eat fava greens/tedrils too?

Have a GLORIOUS break!

Anh said...

I just ate these, too. I just braised them simply. Love them so much that I will buy more.

Sophie said...

Your recipe sounds perfect for spring Lucy.

I had to laugh at you eating the beans as you pod - it must take hours to get up to enough for four people!

Valli said...

You have convinced me!!!Enjoy your vacation...sob....

Rosa said...

Ah, this really brings back the taste of spring. Your holiday sounds wonderful, even if you will miss most of the fava bean season!

Wendy said...

Broad beans and asparagus are summer veg for us. Perhaps the colder climate?
Have a wonderful, wonderful holiday. My parents are in northern Spain at the moment and say the weather is glorious! :)

winedeb said...

I have not had fresh fava beans. The farmers market that I visited in Ohio this summer never had them either. I have tried canned ones, uh! They were well, let's just say I felt bad wasting them, but...Now I am wondering if I can get them frozen ??? I know they will not taste as good as FRESH! Your holiday sounds marvelous! I will miss your lovely posts while you are enjoying your relaxing time. But I do look forward to your travel posts when you return. Oh, also all the travel photos! Enjoy your time abroad!

Cynthia said...

Small pleasures indeed and treasures too. Good to hear from you Lucy.

Susan said...

I have a bad reaction over fava beans, too, but not b/c I'm English. I just can't get beyond Hannibal Lechter...yech. I would, however, fall for this beautiful mélange as long as you told me they were broad beans.

That hand of elegant,long-fingered carrots is a particularly lovely shot, Lucy.

Pam said...

Lucy, you seem to read my mind each and every post. I purchased some fresh broad beans and asparagus just yesterday to make a "spring" salad. Missing our short lived spring weather(and equinoxial gales) is a fair trade off for eating tapas in Madrid or pizzas in New York. Have a great trip.

Anonymous said...

Beautiful post. The photos are stunning :)

Lucy said...

I've never seen edamame, but they would be a great substitute Calliipygia.

I didn't Christina. Happy planting (when the rain eases).

There're good right now Anh.

Hours, Sophie, hours...;)

Yey Valli! I will. I'm a VERY lucky girl.

It will be Rosa, and I can't wait to get away.

Must be Wendy - it's a bloody ot summer we get here. Glad your parents are enjoying themslves - it will be a great holiday.

Deb, I always keep a bag of frozen ones in the freezer and they do actually freeze quite well. You'll definitely need to blanch them and double-peel, straight from frozen. The camera's coming with me. It will be a world of opportunity!

The little pleasures are the best kind, Cynthia!

Susan, you do make me laugh! Hannibal's discussion about them I had completely forgotten about...yech indeed.

Those gales Pam...I'm very happy about going away. Fair trade-off for sure!

Thanks Maryann.

Figs Olives Wine said...

Lucy, it all sounds so unbelievably good - the ragout, the pesto, the salad. And the job of shucking them can be so soothing - I've been finding that with borlotti and cranberry beans lately too. What a heavenly post. It's so nice to be back from Maine and read this! And why is it that the best seasons (spring and autumn in my book) with all the subtlety and nuance only last a month or so? It's the same where I am, and it's such a pity! 2 or 3 month a year I want to be outside all the time, and the rest are spent hunkered indoors next to a heater or an ac unit! I hope we roll autumn out in time for your trip.