Russell Norman’s seasonal broad bean salad
“I ate his liver with some fava beans and a nice chianti.” — Dr Hannibal Lecter, The Silence of the Lambs (1991)
Nature has its way of warning us when we are in danger. The black and yellow stripes of a wasp are so effective a signal to stay away that we have replicated them in the human world, too: health-and-safety “Caution wet floor” signs, “Police do not cross” tape — and Ali G’s tracksuit. The fact that SpongeBob SquarePants and Lady Gaga also favour black and yellow is further proof, if it were needed, that this is a colour combination that signals danger.
Red is similarly foreboding. It means stop (just look at traffic lights the world over) but it also means, “Eat this and you might die.”
The poisonous dart frog of Central America certainly communicates this rather effectively with its bright red back. And a single bite of the red-gilled mushroom known ominously as “Satan’s Bolete” will effectively turn your stomach inside out. Buon appetito!
Green, however, is good. It symbolises life and vitality. It is the colour nature decided to give to chlorophyll, that miraculous chemical that causes all plants to resonate with the frequency that sits right in the middle
of the rainbow. We call vegetable sellers “greengrocers” and even abbreviate the edible plant kingdom to the simple word “greens” when talking about eating them. There is something inherently healthy about the colour green and, in the spring and summer months, my kitchen, fridge and dinner plate tend to be full of food of this hue.
Broad beans (or fava beans as they are known in Italy and the US) are such a wonderfully vibrant expression of greenness that I look forward to their arrival each year with joy and anticipation. Once podded, they tend to look a little dulled because of the white membrane that surrounds each pulse, but pinch it off and, hey presto, there’s a beautiful bean inside that is even more verdant than the bright green casing from which it came. Their grassy, nutty flavour is enhanced by a little blanching. This is not really cooking, it is simply teasing them out of their shell and helping them to be a little less coy.
Like peas, broad beans do tend to disappear as you pod them; the temptation to eat them raw while you work always proves just a little too great. But they are a glorious summer ingredient, have a long season and are so versatile that I enjoy them well into September.
The following delicate dish is a perfect showcase for the tender, young broad beans of June and can be served as a starter or as a light lunch on a warm day with a glass of cold, crisp Gavi di Gavi. Much more appropriate than chianti. Just beware of wasps.
Russell Norman’s new cookbook Venice: Four Seasons of Home Cooking (Penguin Fig Tree) is out now
Photograph by Dan Burn-Forti