I love borlotti beans
They’re good in an Italian soup with or without pasta.
You can also cook them in stock, garlic and olive oil – reducing the liquid until it becomes an unctuous sauce – then finish it off with loads of chopped fresh parsley.
And Marcella Hazan – one of the doyennes of Italian food writers – uses them to make a fantastic pasta sauce flavoured with rosemary (she calls them cranberry beans).
Fiery red pods
They’re a great thing to grow as they can be cooked straight after being shelled from the fiery red pod – the Italians call them lingua di fuoco or tongue of fire. The fresh beans are a delicate pale green laced with pink markings (the pods are discarded and composted).
They also store well – if you pick them right at the end of the season as the pods are turning crisp and papery on the climbing vine – revealing pink and burgundy beans that look like miniature exotic birds eggs.
When you want to use them you soak them overnight and cook like any other dried bean or pulse. They are a welcome and hearty staple throughout the winter.
Save and sow
And as I make this soup with the last of my collected, dried and stored beans I’m saving about to sow thirty or forty of them to sow for this year’s crop.
They will take a couple of weeks to germinate – I sow in compost in 1 1/2 inch square modules and wait until the last frosts before planting out along a row of bamboo cane supports for them to scramble up.
Like other beans they are a good nitrogen fixer improving your soil for the crop that follows them.
- 3 tbsp olive oil
- 125 g diced onion
- 125 g diced carrot
- 125 g diced celery
- 170 g tomatoes chopped
- 180 g dried borlotti beans, soaked and cooked until soft or 450 g tinned drained beans
- 750 ml vegetable stock or more if needed
- 2 tbsp finely chopped fresh parsley
Saute onion, carrot and celery with a little salt on a gentle heat for about ten minutes in a large saucepan. Sometimes I add a little crushed garlic or if I have no celery I will use leeks. Stir occasionally.
Add tomatoes (you can use fresh skinned tomatoes or tinned ones with their juice) and cook for a further ten minutes stirring occasionally.
Add cooked borlotti beans and bean cooking liquid topped up with stock (I use Marigold Bouillon powder with water). I usually make sure there's at least two inches of liquid above the beans and vegetables in the pan.
You can add fresh uncooked borlotti beans instead at this point if you have them (about 1kg in weight in their pods - then shell and discard pods and compost them). Or add some tinned beans like red kidneys.
Simmer for half an hour with the lid on.
Taste and season with salt and pepper if necessary - you can also take out a few of the beans (a couple of tablespoons and mash them and add back into the pan)
At this point you can add a couple or three handfuls of dried small pasta shapes like orzo or macaroni and cook for a further 10 or 15 minutes making sure there's enough liquid to absorb the extra ingredients.
I usually don't bother.
I chop lots of fresh parsley - a couple of tablespoons and add five minutes before I serve.