About sixteen years ago, I sat in the sunshine a large garden behind a high wall near the centre of Rome. It was lunchtime. There was a great bowl of broad beans, a plate piled with shavings of pecorino and a bottle of Sicilian olive oil, the colour of sunshine. We podded the broad beans, each person taking as many as they wanted. The beans were no larger than a finger hail, plump and green as opals. When I had enough, I dotted them with shavings of pecorino and dribbled a bit of olive over them and ate them, salt and a faint sourness from the cheese, warm, grassy oil, and the husky sweetness with a touch of meatiness of the tiny broad beans. Lunch didn’t stop there. It went on, through mozzarella the size of a rugby ball, flown in from Campania that morning, through pasta and steaks and sausages and salad and fruit, but it is the broad beans that I remember most vividly.
I loved broad beans long before that, though, and always favoured them young and small. Of course you can eat them larger, but they’ll be coarse and vulgar, and should be pureed or turned into soup. And when they are no larger than a fingernail, you don’t have to shuck them out of their skins. There are people who’ll do that anyway, I suspect because they like the brilliant green colour, but not me. Anyone who has chewed on broad bean skins after they’ve been shucked knows how tasty they are.
Anyway, this blog isn’t supposed to be about the generic virtues of the broad beans in general, but a study of three varieties in particular – Crimson Flowered, in the picture; Stereo, which a short stumpy fellow and Lungha Cascina, which is on trial this year. Crimson Flowered and Stereo are the incumbent favourites, selected entirely on the merits of flavour, like all my vegetables.
They are both stumpy fellows, and quite sturdy in the stem, which helps when there’s a lot of wind about, as there has been this spring. The Crimson Flowered is quite the prettiest of vegetable plants too, its scarlet petals highlighted by the dark grey-green leafage. Neither Stereo nor Crimson Flowered is what you might call a heavy cropper. The pods are quite small, and contain 3-5 beans. The beans never seem to grow large or coarse, which is another reason I like them. And I’ve not found any variety to touch them for flavour. Their only downside is that you need a lot of pods to give even a few people a decent helping
Would the Lungha Cascina challenge these two beauties? Well, the jury’s still out on that one, to be honest. Early tastings suggest that it is sweeter, but the overall flavour seems a bit, well, reticent compared to the other two. But I’m going to leave them all for a few days, and then try them again.
Note. My friend, and fellow Seed Saddo, Stevie, swears by Aquadulce, but he just lovers a heavy cropper. It’s very reliable, but really, not in the same class.