I've always had a tricky relationship with broad beans.
I remember that as a child, broad beans were proffered as a real treat. I was supposed to feel lucky to have the greying shrivelled up things nestling upon my plate.
Trouble is, I didn't feel too lucky. In fact, I felt distinctly unlucky. What had I done to deserve such horrible vegetables? Why couldn't I just have peas instead?
Ever since, I have shunned the broad bean. It has had no place in my kitchen. Until now, that is. Just recently I had something of a eureka moment. I was a guest at a lunch party and upon picking up the menu, my heart sunk somewhat. I forget what kind of fish was being served, but I can remember all too clearly that the seasonal sauce was broad bean-based. I thought that I could perhaps politely push the offending beans to one side or hide them under a bit of discarded fish skin. When the dish arrived, however, I was surprised to see how bright and pretty the broad beans looked. None of the wrinkled greyness I had come to loathe. The verdict? Delicious, of course.
What had happened, you see, is that the chefs had peeled the beans after cooking them. A thankless task, they may have grumbled as they peeled enough broad beans for 200-odd people. But I, for one, am hugely thankful. I have at long last discovered the joy that is a fresh broad bean. Before I get all evangelical on the subject of the peeled broad bean, allow me to demonstrate the obvious. Which of the below looks more tempting to you?
The grey wrinkly thing with its tough skin, or the lovely bright green thing? I rest my case.
I was having a bad day yesterday. The sun was shining, it was the weekend, I'm off on holiday next week - what on earth could be wrong? I was stuck inside working. And today, I'm stuck inside working too. It is my own fault, of course. I've been foolish enough to book a week's holiday and we all know what that means, don't we? Desperately trying to fit two weeks' work into one to make up for the week that we'll miss. This time I am determined to get it all done before I go so that I can properly relax and enjoy myself.
To make up for the bad weekend, I decided to treat myself to a really special meal in the garden. Unusually for a Saturday, it was just me, but I wasn't going to let that stop me from making an effort. At six thirty, I took myself outside with a glass of wine and set to work podding the beans and topping and tailing gooseberries for dessert (more on that later). I felt suddenly completely summery - there is something about podding beans or shelling peas outdoors that seems timeless. The epitome of English summertime. I then made a marinade for a little quail that I'd picked up at the butcher and sat back with the papers and a little plate to nibble on: parma ham and manchego cheese drizzled with a little honey. Heaven...
As for the quail, I followed a Nigel Slater recipe from The Kitchen Diaries. It worked out rather well. He suggested 2 quail per person and he is probably right (I find he is about most things), but I was happy with just the one seeing as I had the cheese and ham to start and gooseberry crumble for pudding. He also comments on the fact that one should not be polite when eating quail - a knife and fork will not get you far. Pick it up in your fingers and nibble away at those bones.
To go with the quail, I roasted some butternut squash in the same tin and then made a lovely side dish of broad beans with pancetta. Food, Glorious Food indeed!
Take a look in The Kitchen Diaries for the original recipe for the quail. He serves his with spinach which might be nice next time. You'll find it there on page 169. And if you still don't have the book, then you really must go out and buy it. I've said it before and I shall be certain to say it again. I really think it is my favourite cookery book. Or possibly even my favourite book full stop.
Anyway, here is my version with the quantites changed somewhat. Underneath, you will also find my recipe for the broad bean side dish. Both are easily doubled or tripled!
Nigel Slater's roasted five spice quail with butternut squash
1 or 2 oven-ready quail
1 1/2 heaped teaspoons of five spice seasoning
half a teaspoon of hot chilli powder
1 small clove garlic
juice of half a lemon
1 tablespoon of oil (I used vegetable, Nigel suggests groundnut)
Half a butternut squash - peeled, seeded and chopped into 1 inch chunks
1. Finely chop the garlic and place in a bowl with the seasoning, chilli powder, lemon juice and oil. Season with a little salt. Pop the quail into the bowl and rub all over with the marinade. Pop to one side for an hour or so.
2. Pre-heat oven to 200C. Drizzle a little oil into a roasting tin and pop the squash in 5-10 mins ahead of the quail. Push squash to one side and then place quail in the tin too, with a little of the marinade drizzled over the top. Rub a little more salt into the skin to help it crisp up and roast for 25 minutes until the skin is nicely browned.
Broad beans with pancetta
Handful of freshly podded broad beans
Heaped tablespoon of chopped pancetta
1 dessert spoon double cream
1 dessert spoon freshly chopped curly parsley
1. Boil broad beans for 5-10 minutes depending on size. Drain and rinse in sieve with cold water. Peel and discard those wrinkly grey skins!
2. Heat a small frying pan and add the pancetta (no need for any oil). When this is cooked and crispy, add the broad beans, cream and parsley. Season with pepper (no salt - pancetta is very salty). Heat through and serve.