I love these pink-speckled climbing beans. They’re a big favourite in Italy and with good reason. Cooked, they have a creamy centre while holding their shape, although sadly their freckles disappear and they turn a rather uninteresting brown. The ones we planted in the garden aren’t cropping yet but they are available in the shops.
I first tasted a version of this recipe in the kitchen of the excellent Pea Porridge in Bury St Edmund’s when I was talking to chef-proprietor Justin Sharp. He generously gave me a list of his ingredients but I did the rest by guesswork (and substituted rosemary for sage), so any subsequent errors are mine. His was cooked in a charcoal oven, mine in a domestic oven. It tastes pretty darned good to me though, herby and garlicky, with a hint of astringency from the vinegar. I like it best tepid.
Justin was planning to serve it simply with some ricotta, perfect for vegetarians (if you sub the anchovies), but it works as a side with meat dishes too. It would be great with Italian fennel sausages. Like many Italian-inspired recipes, it’s simple to make, relying on good ingredients.
If you can’t get your hands on fresh borlotti you can try using dried beans, soaked overnight in plenty of cold water. I had 800g of beans but you could scale down to 500g without altering the remaining ingredient quantities. And please don’t be put off by the anchovies, even if you don’t like them, as they disappear into the juices and just give a deeply savoury, not fishy, flavour.
Slow-Cooked Borlotti Beans
800g fresh borlotti beans (or pre-soaked dried)
4-5 fat cloves of garlic, peeled but left whole
1 tspn chilli flakes
6-8 fat anchovies, chopped (rinsed first if salted)
2 large sprigs of rosemary
125 ml red wine vinegar
75 ml olive oil
275 ml water
A good grind of black pepper
A big handful of chopped fresh parsley
A drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil
Pre-heat the oven to 140C/275F/Gas Mark 1.
Put all the ingredients (except the final pair for finishing) into a roasting tin, give them a stir and cover tightly with foil. Don’t add salt at this stage as you may find the anchovies provide enough seasoning.
Cook for three hours or until tender, stirring halfway through and re-covering with the foil. They should be tender but retain some bite. Check the seasoning, adding salt and more pepper if necessary, squash the now-soft garlic into the juices and fish out the rosemary stalks.
It can be pre-made up to this point and refrigerated once cold, then re-heated just before you want to eat.
Before serving, stir through the parsley and drizzle with a little more olive oil. Garnish with a few more herbs.