broad beans

Broad beans in the market signal that spring is here. Unlike other vegetables, which are available all year round, broad beans have a distinct season. So buy them now, before they disappear again. They look like giant green puffy pods, much bigger than other beans. When these pods are small, you can eat them whole. Enjoy this special treat by planting your own, as they’re easy to grow. The broad beans in the markets are usually quite large. The pods need to be peeled to reveal the beans. When the beans are small they can be eaten with their skins still on, but I prefer to peel them again. This is known as double podding. It’s quite simple to do; bring a pot of water to the boil, add the beans and cook for 1-2 minutes, then remove. The skins will slip off easily, revealing beautiful emerald green pods, sweet and juicy.

When they’re not in season, you can still buy frozen beans, already podded, from the supermarket. I have also been able to buy frozen broad beans which have been double podded, in my local asian grocery. Whilst not quite as charming as podding your own, it’s certainly quicker, when you’re short for time.

Why not try these delicious recipes to enjoy this delicate seasonal treat.

Smashed broad beans and baby peas on bruschetta with ricotta and mint.

A rustic snack that’s perfect for a light lunch. Use a mortar and pestle for a rough paste or a food processor for a smoother consistency.

1 crusty sourdough loaf

1 clove garlic, peeled

extra virgin olive oil to drizzle

1 kg fresh broad beans (300g podded beans)

1 cup frozen baby peas, thawed

1 tbs olive oil

salt and pepper

120g fresh ricotta from the deli

few leaves of mint

Slice the sourdough thickly and toast or grill. While these are still hot, rub with the garlic and drizzle with a little oil.

Remove the broad beans from their outer shells. Bring a pot of water to the boil, add broad beans and cook for a couple of minutes until soft. Remove and drain. Peel off the outer pod and set aside. Roughly mash the broad beans with peas and oil in a mortar and pestle. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Pile onto toast with a dollop of ricotta on top and sprinkle with some finely chopped mint.

serves 4.

Broad bean ‘felafel’ fritters with minted yoghurt

Felafel are usually made with a  mix of dried broad beans and chickpeas. Here, I have used fresh broad beans and tinned chickpeas. You could also make them into small ball shapes and deep fry.

1 kg fresh broad beans

400g tin chickpeas, drained and rinsed

1 cup loosely packed fresh coriander leaves

1 cup loosely packed fresh mint leaves

sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 clove garlic, finely chopped

1 tsp ground coriander

1 tsp ground cumin

1 red chilli, seeded and sliced

½ (half) lemon, zest and juice

½ (half) cup plain flour for dusting

vegetable oil for frying

1 cup plain yoghurt

2 tbs shredded mint leaves

Remove the broad beans from their outer shells. Bring a pot of water to the boil, add broad beans and cook for a couple of minutes until soft. Remove and drain. Peel off the outer pod and set aside.

Place the beans and chickpeas in a food processor and pulse to combine. Add coriander, mint, salt and pepper, spices, lemon zest and pulse until finely chopped.

Use your hands to shape the mixture into 10 -12 small patties, then lightly dust with flour to coat.

Heat oil in a large frypan and cook the fritters on both sides until lightly browned.

Drain on paper towel and set aside.

Mix yoghurt with mint leaves and serve alongside the fritters.

make 10-12.

Spring salad of broad beans, asparagus, prawns and citrus

This simple salad would be lovely as a light lunch or smart entree.

I kg fresh broad beans

2 bunches fresh asparagus spears

olive oil to drizzle

salt and pepper to season

24 green prawns, peeled, with tails on

1 orange, segmented, juice reserved

1 pink grapefruit, segmented, juice reserved

1 tangelo, segmented, juice reserved

Remove the broad beans from their outer shells. Bring a pot of water to the boil, add broad beans and cook for a couple of minutes until soft. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain. Peel off the outer pod and set aside.

Trim asparagus and cut into 3 cm lengths. Use the same pot of boiling water to cook these for a minute or two until just tender. Drain, then place in a bowl with the broad beans, drizzle with a little olive oil and season with salt and pepper.

Heat a grill or non stick pan, add oil and quickly cook the prawns on both sides. Toss into the bowl with beans and asparagus.

Add citrus segments and a little reserved juice.

Check seasoning and adjust if necessary. Add salad leaves and gently toss.

Pile onto plates and serve.

serves 4.

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lemon verbena

Lemon verbena

photo Marina Oliphant

One of the most rewarding things for a home cook is having the luxury of fresh herbs straight from the garden. Most herbs are easy to grow in a pot with lots of sunlight and water. Lemon verbena looks lovely in a pot, where space is limited. Once in the garden, it will grow into a much larger plant.

It’s almost impossible to explain the scent of lemon verbena until you’ve actually rubbed a leaf in your hands.

Yes, it’s lemon, but there is a complexity to the fragrance that is not like any other citrus. The flavour is similarly complex, floral, sweet and lemony.

You can use lemon verbena in place of lemon zest in recipes, both sweet and savoury. In herb butter, added to fish or poultry, with vegetables and in salad dressing. Add fresh leaves to poaching syrups for a subtle lemon flavour. They make a lovely addition to homemade lemonade and are refreshing in iced tea. Finely grind fresh leaves with sugar in a mortar and pestle or food processor to make a bright green lemon flavoured sugar. Fold through whipped cream, yoghurt or mascarpone to flavour. The dried leaves highly prized and are used to make fine teas and pot pourri.

Try these easy recipes to experience this magical flavour.

Lemon verbena is a welcome addition to your kitchen garden.

lemon verbena shortbread

Shortbread requires a light touch. Don’t be tempted to knead too much and you will be rewarded with a light crumbly texture. For extra flavour, sprinkle over some lemon flavoured sugar before baking.

100g caster sugar

half cup loosely packed fresh lemon verbena leaves

200g unsalted butter, softened

300g flour

pinch salt

1 tbsp finely grated lemon zest

Pulse sugar and lemon verbena leaves in a food processor until thoroughly combined and all the leaves are completely pulverised (any stringy bits of tougher leaves can be removed by hand if necessary).

Cream with butter until light and fluffy. Sieve flour with salt and mix together with creamed butter and lemon zest to make a soft dough. Wrap in clingfilm and refrigerate for 1 hour. Preheat oven to 160C fan forced (180C conventional). Roll out the dough on a lightly floured bench to 1cm thickness, then cut into shapes with a biscuit cutter. Place on baking sheet and bake for 15-20 minutes until pale golden. Remove from oven and cool.

makes 30 biscuits using a 4cm round cutter.

lemon verbena pannacotta

photo Marina Oliphant

pannacotta

This glamorous dessert is so easy to make. The addition of yoghurt cuts the richness of the cream. There are lots of different strengths of gelatine leaves, so always check the packet directions for setting quantities. You can substitute powdered gelatine if the leaves are unavailable.

½ (half) cup loosely packed fresh lemon verbena leaves

5 tbs caster sugar

2 cups (500ml) thickened cream

100ml milk

one and a half leaves gelatine (Alba gold strength)

100ml natural yoghurt

finely grated zest of 1 lemon

orange and pink grapefruit segments to serve

extra lemon verbena leaves to garnish

Tear the lemon verbena leaves in half and gently bruise with sugar in a mortar and pestle.

Heat the thickened cream and milk in a small saucepan with the lemon verbena and sugar. Remove from heat and allow the delicate flavour to infuse for 1-2 hours.

Strain mixture through a sieve and return to the heat to warm gently.

Soak gelatine leaves in cold water for a few minutes to soften. Squeeze to remove excess water. Add gelatine to cream mixture and stir to dissolve.

Stir in yoghurt and add lemon zest.

Pour into small dariole moulds that have been lightly sprayed with cooking spray.

Refrigerate overnight or until set.

To unmould, dip the moulds in a bowl of hot water briefly, then turn upside down onto small serving plates and shake gently to release the pannacotta.

Serve with orange and pink grapefruit segments and extra lemon verbena leaves for garnish.

serves 6.

lemon verbena sorbet

photo Marina Oliphant

This is an easy sorbet that doesn’t require an icecream maker. If you don’t have the time to make sorbet, run a fork through the frozen mixture for an instant granita.

1 cup loosely packed lemon verbena leaves, torn

1 cup caster sugar

3 cups water

1 lemon

fresh berries to serve

Place roughly torn lemon verbena leaves in a saucepan with sugar and water. Bring to boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 3 minutes until sugar has dissolved. Set aside to cool completely and allow the flavour to infuse. Strain to remove leaves.

Zest and juice lemon. Strain juice into sugar syrup. Add zest and stir until combined. Pour mixture into stainless steel container and cover with foil. Freeze for 2 hours. Remove mixture from freezer and use a fork to break up ice crystals. Transfer mixture to a food processor and process until just smooth. Return mixture to freezer for 1 hour. Remove and repeat processing procedure, making sure that the mixture is not overprocessed. Return to freezer until completely frozen.

Remove from freezer and set aside for 3-5 minutes to soften slightly.

Serve with fresh berries.

Serves 6.