Borlotti For You

Fagiolo_Rampicante_Borlotto_Lamon_K-1Alison Bessborough is a culinary and horticultural expert who is not afraid to grow slightly unusual vegetables in her garden – from a rare Chinese white radish to Italian borlotti beans.

Alison Bessborough grows an impressive amount of vegetables. Why? “Because they taste better. You can pick them half an hour before you eat them, and they’ll keep all their flavour and vitamins,” she says. “Most vegetables have a very sweet taste, but if you leave them for too long, you lose most of that sweetness”. She grows lettuce (rocket, radicchio, Japanese, Chinese, Italian), every kind of potato (“each type has a different flavour”), root vegetables, peas, asparagus, sea kale, cabbages and lots of beans: French, runner, broad, and now, borlotti. Borlotti beans, a staple in Italian cooking, are creamy in colour with deep red maroon spots; something you wouldn’t know unless you’d ever eaten them fresh. In supermarkets they are sold dry or tinned, but eat them fresh to fully appreciate their proper flavour. They are easy to grow, and dried they keep for years.

Bean seeds can be bought from any seed supplier (Alison recommends and then collected from every previous season’s crop, so eventually your entire vegetable patch will become self-seeded. If experiencing a cold spring, plant the seeds in pots and keep them indoors until the soil is warmer, and the overnight frosts have passed. When you move them outside, make sure the soil is rich in compost. The more compost you use, the bigger the bean crop. Borlotti beans grow very tall so put bamboo sticks in the ground for support BEFORE planting, as beans do not like their roots disturbed. These beans have a longer growing season, but once ready, they can be cooked straight away. Take them straight from the pod to cook fresh or leave them hanging on the plant, and they will dry naturally.

Alison’s Borlotti Bean Recipe

  • 7oz beans – either fresh from the pod or dried
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • 1 onion
  • 1 sprig of rosemary
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 tbs olive oil
  • 250-500ml of water

This dish is perfect on its own or with meat – particularly with ham, goose or a roast.

If you are using dried beans, they will need to be soaked in UNSALTED water overnight. Any added salt will cause the bean shells to harden.
Using a deep frying pan, fry the oil, garlic, chopped onion, rosemary and bay leaves. Cook until both the onion and garlic are soft, but not brown.
Add the beans to the pan and cover with twice as much water.
Cook for a further 20-30 minutes, or until the beans are cooked, making sure to add water as needed, much like making risotto.

Serve hot with some extra virgin olive oil, salt, pepper and fresh parsley.

Alison Bessborough & Lucinda Baring

Handy Tip: Check out the recipes on the Seeds of Italy website and try Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s ‘Half-the-garden’ Soup, which also offers seasonal variations, or if feeling adventurous, attempt Paolo Arrigo’s Orecchiette Pasta with Cima di Rapa (sprouting turnip tops).

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