The first week of June and we’re on the cusp of Broad Bean season (Fave in Italy). Mine are late this year, and will be a few weeks yet. When they come though, the sheer abundance of broad beans ensures that there’s always a surplus and always a freezer drawer dedicated to them. After the initial gluttonous rush of sweet, tiny proto fave around midsummer, there’s a year long supply of fatter, starchier siblings kept on ice. Each has their merit. The youngsters for their joie de vivre, the oldens for their persistence and reliability. Keep them too long in the frost, and they start to lose their green zing, battered into submission by prolonged cold, so I try to remember to root out any hangers on from the previous spring before the next generation arrives. These tough things need to be derobed to make them more enjoyable – scald them in hot water and then plunge into cold, this makes them easy to squeeze free from their leather jackets. In small quantities, this isn’t too onerous, with the added fun of being mildly indecent when rogue beans squirt jets of water at you as they’re popped out of their skins.
As with everything, peak broad bean season here is several months after peak fava season in Sicily. They are the first of many delayed gratifications you’ll experience when trying to grow a Sicilian kitchen on the wrong island. Unless you’re outstandingly well located, organised, urban and sheltered, the broad beans won’t be making their first appearance this side of Canale della Manica until the latter half of May, at the earliest. The battle is now on. You will want to eat them at their smallest and sweetest before their skins turn tough and bitter. They will want to fatten, coarsen and brazen it out – fighting for the next generation. Catching them at their sweetest is one of the joys of vegetable garden in early summer, alongside with peas from the pod, your own woefully spoilt asparagus, and netted cherries thwarting the blackbirds. They marry perfectly with peas, oil, mint or fennel. There’s a lovely lunch of sharp cheese (salted ricotta perhaps), mixed in with mint, beans and peas to top toast. Posh beans on toast.
But I am digressing – there is much to write and say about the joys of the broad bean in the first flush of its youth, but not here. Not today. Maybe in a couple of weeks, when mine start to make an appearance.
Today is for that emptying the drawer period. The time that comes before.
This is a recipe that is an adaptation of a much grander (and more expensive) version, simple enough for a week night tea and good enough for showing off too. It is excellent for the time when you’re winding down last year’s stores in preparation for the fast approaching glut of new things. Despite this, it has an intensity of summer to it that belies the inelegant, back of the cupboard, bum in the air search for those need to be used up ingredients. Oily fish and tangy sweet acid tomato, fresh medicinal aniseed and the resolute health giving greenness of the beans. Four essential flavours that, for me, work perfectly. It’s a pasta dish, so don’t strive for impossible and instagram worthy beauty, rather pile it up, rolling with steam and dive eagerly in.
Tonno, finocchieto e fave
(For two, as a light meal)
One tin of tuna in olive oil
300 ml passata
2 tsp fennel seed
One bay leaf
Bunch wild fennel fronds
100g broad beans
2 cloves garlic
1 stick celery
150-200g Linguine (depending on appetites)
Start by chopping the onion and celery, as finely as you can, as though for a sofritto
Fry them with the fennel seeds (without colouring) in olive oil, and then add the garlic and bay leaf.
If you need to skin your broad beans, do this whilst your waiting for the vegetables to cook.
When they’re done, add the passata, plus the same amount of water, bring it up to a simmer, and then add your tuna, breaking it into loose chunks. The better the tuna, the chunkier it will remain.
Also add your broad beans, a handful for each person. You can keep this sauce cooking on the lowest of heats, reducing (but not even simmering) until you’re ready to serve, but watch that it doesn’t reduce too much. It needs to stay saucy.
Ten minutes before you’re ready to eat, get your pasta water boiling and then salted.
Chop your wild fennel and add to the sauce.
Cook your linguine for 6-7 minutes and just before it’s done, turn the heat up under the sauce.
Drain the pasta, throw it into the sauce, with a splash of pasta water and mix everything with abandon until the pasta is coated with sticky, oily sauce and dotted through with vivid beans and chunks of tuna.
Eat (it goes very well with a bone dry cider).