Fresh broad beans are only available for a short season in Spring, but walking around the Melbourne Victoria market in the last two weeks I have only seen them in a few stalls.
In spite of my love for broad beans I do not always buy them unless the pods are fresh, bright green in colour and most importantly they must be small or medium sized. Unfortunately most of the broad beans you see for sale are the puffy, larger broad beans, the most mature pods.
In Sicily these large pods are shelled and the beans are dried. Beans this size have to be soaked before cooking and each bean has to be, individually, peeled.
The size of the beans inside the pod determines how you prepare them.
Sicilians eat the tender, young broad beans (about the size of a fingernail) raw. Sadly, you are not likely to find these for sale – you will have to grow them yourself.
Broad beans are sold in their pods and they have to be shelled. And if you look at the photos you can imagine that the process takes time and you need to buy a large quantity of bean pods to get a decent feed. I paid $7 for these ($4 per kilo) so they are not exactly cheap.I ended up with less than 500 g.
When I bought my broad beans I was amused to see that the vendor had placed a packet of shelled broad beans on top of the bean pods. She said her daughter had shelled some because some people do not know what’s inside the pods and that they have to be shelled before eating.
Others may not know that the larger beans need to be skinned again (double-peeling or twice-peeled beans). They have a thick, outer skin, which can taste slightly bitter. Double peeling beans is a very time consuming process, which I try to avoid by selecting the smallest pods I can. (I like to select my own).
There are different brands of frozen broad beans and some brands are double peeled
(you can usually find them in Asian food shops). Although frozen beans are quite acceptable, the fresh ones certainly taste better. Think of the differences in taste and texture between frozen peas and fresh, young peas.
Broad beans are not difficult to cook. My favourite cooking method is to sauté them in a little oil and a little chopped onion, parsley and a little salt and pepper. To finish the cooking add a little liquid, cover and braise them until softened (cooked in umitu in Sicilian and in umido in Italian).
Broad beans with mint
If the beans are not too big (or have been double peeled), a very simple way is to cook them in boiling water till softened (I do not cook them for long), drain them and dress them with a little good quality extra virgin olive oil, salt, pepper and a few leaves of mint. Mint is tender and lush at this time of year. If you do not have mint, dried oregano is always a good Sicilian choice.
See my other posts about broad beans: Cannulicchi a la Favurita – pasta,
Maccu – soup, made with dry broad beans