The thing I love most about traveling, apart from watching the locals, visiting botanical gardens, trying to figure out how to bring back seeds, plants shoots, seedlings, trees…..I know, I get carried away, is – being inspired. You travel and you discover whole new worlds. I am not talking about the obvious discoveries made when traveling to lands far away – where a new ingredient, maybe a jackfruit, a durian, a type of fish unique to the Amazon, a special way with cabbage, like Kim Chi, or a whole, fried Chinese fish on a stick, if you can ignore the polluted waters it came from right behind you as you bite into it, might suddenly open your mind to new gustatory experiences, no I am talking about more mundane, but somehow more exciting discoveries. Like the 1001 ways you can enjoy beans and how different methods of preparation totally change the experience.
For example. If you have been to Italy you know that they eat chickpeas, in many different ways, however, oddly they don’t make anything resembling hummus nor do they make falafel – indeed, chickpeas, as far as I know and can ascertain from various sources, any Italians reading this please comment and add corrections, where needed, are generally served whole. This summer when I served the Nonno and Nonna di Giulia Hummus with lamb Kawarma (courtesy of the fabulous Ottolenghi) – they were surprised and enthused. To my great pleasure, Nonno di Giulia actually asked me for the recipe, I thought he was doing it to be kind to the nice, non-Italian in the kitchen, but no, Mr Polianthus tells me, that Nonno, has in living memory, never asked for a recipe, because Nonno doesn’t cook, so the fact that he did, meant he really liked it. I was very happy. Nonna said she liked it too, but she prefers to stick with the staples where savoury dishes are concerned, so no recipe follow-up there. Anyhow, such a simple recipe, yet a whole new experience for them. I have had the same experience recently with many different beans . Which, funnily enough, unlike chick peas, are often served pureed in Italy.
Fava, cannelini beans – both make wonderful soups (check out this lovely recipe https://polianthus.wordpress.com/2015/04/19/soup-on-sunday-italian-fava-bean-soup-recipe-nonna-di-giulia/ or this shrimp in kataifi with fava bean puree) and purees and are used to great effect as a foil to various sea-food offerings in high-end restaurants. Every time a waiter presents me with squid, shrimp etc. on bean puree – I am wowed, because the familiar is suddenly amazing, and new. So my question for today is, why is it we don’t honour the humble bean more? Is it the fact, that affordable as they are, they have been relegated to the “poor man’s pantry” there to languish, while everyone else eats lobster and foie gras? I do know that growing up we almost never ate pulses, the odd lentil salad, the rare chili con carne (with kidney beans sprinkled throughout) but not often and certainly not regularly. And never welcomed by any of the family members, which is why my mother, maybe, decided it wasn’t worth it.
Anyhow, coming back from my trip to Italy this weekend I find myself inspired by beans. We ate at 2 Michelin starred restaurants, a 5 course taster menu was 38 Euros including wine (around 45 dollars, or 42 Chf) – you would get one main course for that here. However, it’s not about the cost, although, the cost amazes me too, it’s about unapologetic quality of the ingredients, you can eat at Michelin starred restaurants elsewhere too, however, it’s never as good as when the produce is not long out of the earth, when the vegetable’s roots, remember the soil, and the turgidity of the leaves is due, not to frequent mistings with water, while they lie wilting on the shelf, but to the fact that they were only picked that very day.
So in my ode to the humble pulse -let me recount the ways I enjoyed them in the past days. We ate at a lovely place called Nonna Lina – they served a variety of dishes, the one I remember best was a simple rendition of chickpeas, bietole (the green leaves of the beetroot – didn’t know you can eat them, well yes you can, tastes a bit like the love-child of spinach and chard) and calamari in very fine strips. At Agrodolce I ate an amazing dish of cannelini bean puree with tiny squids on top, a special kind, the name escapes me. And the first evening in a cute little place called Nero di Seppia the most amazing chickpeas, spinach and squid. The dishes may sound similar but they really were not.
Arriving home today I felt like recreating those simple southern dishes. I grilled some vegetables (whatever was left in the fridge – in this case endive, green pepper and leeks) and served with smoked salmon (I don’t live on the ocean so I have to make do) – and I served it with a kidney bean soup.
Kidney bean soup (serves 2 as a main course, 3 as a starter)
- 1 can 450g kidney beans, drain and wash the beans
- 1 onion
- 5 cherry tomatoes
- salt to taste
- great quality olive oil I love tuscan
- about 600ml water
Boil beans, onion, cherry tomatoes halved until warmed through and the onion is tender and the broth flavourful. Blend. Add olive oil to taste about 1 tablespoon depending on your likes. Add salt to taste. Serve in bowls and pour some olive oil on top.
Serve with grilled vegetables – cut the vegetables, heat oven to 180°C – brush with olive oil. Grill until cooked through and browned, crispy leek may be my next favourite vegetable after crisyp kale.