Broad beans (Vicia fava) – or ‘fava’ beans as they are sometimes called – are a big meaty bean grown over winter here on the Adelaide Plains, and provide good nutritious accompaniments or light meals in their own right during Spring when other pickings from the garden are at their leanest. Before the explorers brought green beans back from the Americas, broad beans were the only bean known to Europeans and folk from the Middle East, where it had been cultivated since pre-historic times.
This past winter I’ve grown two different varieties of broad beans; one for eating (Early Long Pod) and one for seed propagation (Aquadulce). As broad beans are partially self-pollinated and partly cross-pollinated, there’s some small chance that I’ve crossed the two varieties, but may yet be saved from that small embarrassment by the different time of flowering of these two varieties.
Broad beans are grown in blocks and fenced with stakes and strings to help them present a broad shoulder to the gully winds that blow during Spring and which threaten to bend the heavily-laden plants in two.
I cut broad beans from their plants with a sturdy pair of pizza scissors for the same reason; pulling on them only breaks the self-standing plant in two. The larger bottom beans are left on the plants for later podding and drying for next year’s seed.
Once I’ve got a bucketful of young tender beans, its back up to the outside veranda, where the pod can easily be split down the side with a sharp knife, and the big beautiful beans flipped out into a large dish ready for presentation to the waiting cook.
Thinly-sliced onion and crushed garlic are then cooked on low heat in butter and a little olive oil until the onion is almost soft, then the broad beans are added with another dob of butter and a pinch of salt at the end. Don’t over-cook broad beans – just let them warm up and soften a bit. Sometimes we finish them with grated parmesan cheese to lift the flavour and quell a little of the bitterness.