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.
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.
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.
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?