Borlotti bean salad – fasoi in insalata – and memories of tombola

I have a jar full of dried borlotti beans from plants that had been grown by my father. We harvested them just after he passed away in March 2012, removing the weary plants at the end of their growing season. Whenever I look at that jar, that sits on my kitchen bench or eat fasoi (this is in our dialect, it is fagioli in italian), I think of him. There are many reasons why borlotti beans remind me of my papà. Firstly because he loved to eat them, especially cooked and tossed in a salad on their own or with some radicchio. Secondly because we had them growing in the backyard of the family home most years – he would grow them from dried beans. And lastly because we used the leftover dried ones when we played tombola (bingo – see photo below) at home when I was little. They served as markers to put on your bingo card when a number was called out. We had bought the game in Italy in the early 1970s and played it back in Australia.

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I love taking the time to pod fresh borlotti beans. It is so relaxing. They are much quicker to pod than peas (that seem to fly everywhere because they are round) or broad beans (which have such a thick pod and need double podding unless they are very young). They are delicious boiled and tossed in salad like my father used to eat. If fresh borlotti are not in season, you can always soak the dried ones overnight and use those instead. Once the beans are cooked you can add them to different salads. Chef Yotam Ottolenghi makes a great salad with borlotti beans and feta cheese. But I love cooking them with a few vegetables and eating them on their own, still slightly warm, with some flaky sea salt and good olive oil. Nothing could be simpler or healthier.

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Borlotti bean salad

fresh Borlotti beans podded (or dried ones soaked overnight, rinsed)
1/2 carrot, peeled and chopped in half
1/4 stick celery, chopped in half
1/2 small onion, peeled
a few black peppercorns
one bay leaf
extra virgin olive oil
sea salt to taste

Bring a medium sized saucepan of water to the boil. Add the beans, carrot, celery, onion, peppercorns and bay leaf. Cook covered until the beans are cooked through but still whole (30-45 minutes depending on the size of the beans). Drain.

Serve with EVOO and salt (and a drop of balsamic vinegar if you like) or add them to your favourite salad.

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I found a tombola (bingo) set a bit like the one we used to have – though our number cards were orange and the wooden numbers were blonde wood with red writing. I found this set at the Italian Museum in Carlton last week and took this photo. Who knows if the former owners of this tombola set used dried borlotti beans like we did?

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18 comments on “Borlotti bean salad – fasoi in insalata – and memories of tombola

  1. Love borlotti. Have you ever tried them with tuna? Just mix some up with canned tuna, blanched onion rings, rocket leaves, olive oil, balsamic vinegar etc. it’s a marriage made in heaven.

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  2. Ciao Paola,
    As a kid, I used to pinch a handful of borlotti beans off mum when she was shelling them so I could plant them in the vegie garden. Not always in the most appropriate places and I got into trouble for it a few times. All was forgiven when they eventually sprouted a lovely crop though. Radicio e fasoi was and still is, a favourite of mine, especially when you can get the tender first cut or “primo tagio” of the radicio.

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  3. I love borlotti beans, maybe because of eating them as a child. I also have made the salad described by Ambradambra, but with Spanish onion. I am going to plant some in Spring, but was looking at the diggers catalogue, as I read there were several kinds. Which ones would you recommend?

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  4. Such a beautiful tribute to your father Paola, I loved his post. I really look forward to making your salad soon. Borlotti beans have been a new crop in our garden and I adore them, such beautiful warmth in their colour. xx

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    • Thanks Mrs M. I think of my father so often and see him in so many things around me – I guess that is why they say that your parents continue to live in you even when they have passed.

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  5. I love beans of any kind and this reminds me of my nonna. She used to grow beans of different varieties and made lovely bean soup out of them. It was really thick and tasty and so filling. Ideal for a large growing family. There were borlotti, and 2 or three other kinds, but I don’t know what they were, one was purple in colour with black speckles. We couldn’t visit her often as we lived in England and she in a little village called Conoglano, but I have very fond memories of my times there.

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    • Ciao Gianna, i didn’t know there was more than one variety of borlotti – we always had the ones in the photo I have above. So your nonna is from Veneto? Is she still with us? What lovely memories you have of her – and with nonnas it is so often about food. Just lovely

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      • Ciao, I think the beans were types of green (runner) beans which were left to grow in the pod. My nonna was from Conoglano, Friuli (near to Udine). Sadly she passed away when I was a teenager, but I have very fond memories of her. Mia mamma has also passed away some 8 years ago now and I miss her tremendously. I still visit the village she grew up in and the few relatives that are left, and to me it feels like a second home.

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      • ciao Gianna, I had not heard of Conoglano – I read it as Conegliano (in Veneto). I love Udine and it’s surrounds. So sorry to hear of your nonna and mamma’s passing. It must be a great comfort for you to return to the village where they are from. Thanks for sharing your story with me

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  6. This is off the subject perhaps, but as a fellow blogger I really like the way you’ve solved the issue of photographing those borlotti beans—beautiful when raw but rather dull when cooked.

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    • thanks Frank, that is very kind of you. It is unfortunate that the beans turn so grey when cooked, in spite of their wonderful taste. I would have liked to have snapped the olive oil glistening on the beans as well but it didn’t quite work out the way I expected, but I like them anyway. Thanks again

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