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Last week Natoora kindly gifted me one of their Peak Season fruit and vegetable boxes, injecting a welcome bit of inspiration into my summer cooking which this year has been lacking somewhat, no doubt in response to the lack of fresh produce coming out of my kitchen garden during this damp, changeable season that seems to be killing off everything in sight.
In the box came some old favourites: Italian white peaches from Campania, Essex raspberries and great big Bull’s Heart Tomatoes from Liguria that needed nothing but to be thickly slices and served with good Breton Fleur de Sel and my very best Extra Virgin Olive Oil. Also in the box, I was excited to see, was a big fat handful of fresh borlotti beans, vibrant and seductive in their vivid, pink mottled skins.
I’d never cooked borlotti beans in my life, but I knew that if eaten raw they could be toxic, but where to start searching for the perfect recipe? The answer came from my friend Hannah, who as well as being the PR magic behind some frankly stunning restaurants, has the Instagram feed of my dreams. Her dinners are simple, stunning (in presentation and photography) and creative, always focusing on the best fresh and seasonal produce. I keep telling her she needs to write a cookbook. Honestly, go and give her a follow.
Anyway, Hannah told me she always cooks one recipe: these ‘perfect borlotti’ beans from chef and restauranteur Stevie Parle (you know his pasta restaurant in Soho, the one where I went for lunch by myself and still managed to demolish two main courses and dessert by myself…) back in his River Cottage days, published in The Guardian in 2009, the year I started this website.
Honestly, the recipe is perfect, go check it out. Except, it’s perfect for me, but it might not be perfect for you. It yielded soft, unctuous, stunning beans I served alongside yet another tomato salad and some grilled lamb chops for a stunning summer supper on a cloudy evening, but I both write recipes professionally, and by virtue of my career choice I literally have all day to mess around with something in the kitchen. As I said, the recipe is perfect, but it contains no measurements and no cooking times, just a list of ingredients and instructions. I can happily approach a recipe like this with confidence, but I know it will put most people off.
So here it is, the perfect way to cook fresh borlotti beans, either to be spooned onto your plate as a side dish or piled onto buttered sourdough toast for luxe baked beans, written in a format you can actually follow either this weekend, or sometime next week if working from home is still your jam. I’m certainly going to make it all the while I can still add Natoora’s fresh borlotti beans to my Ocado this summer, and next summer I hope, too.
Now, when I say I’ve added measurements and cooking times to these beans I have, but as with practically every risotto recipe you’ll encounter, I still need to add a few caveats. Firstly, I know it looks like I’ve cooked a very small amount of beans here, and I have. I’ve done this not only to serve the two of us at home, but because Natoora’s fresh borlotti beans come in 400g bio-degradable bags, and unless you grow your own or get lucky at a farmers market, here in the UK I’m taking a pretty educated guess that is where you’ll be getting your beans from too, so I’ve written the recipe to suit. You can of course scale up, but remember to scale up the aromatics too (you can change things up here a bit, when destined to be served with lamb these beans are simply stunning made with rosemary instead of sage), but only add enough liquid to the pot to just comfortably cover the beans; you can always add more later.
Another big variable with these beans is the size, thickness of your pot, and how well your lid fits. I’ve made these beans in my trusty 24cm Ultraviolet Le Creuset casserole, but all of these factors in your own pot will impact both the absorption and escape of liquid from the pot during cooking. Print this recipe out the first time you make this, keep an eye on the beans, and make notes to suit your size of pot and how many beans suit your needs so the next time you make them you can just walk away and leave them to do their thing.
How to cook fresh borlotti beans. Delicious, simple slow cooked borlotti beans flavoured with tomato, garlic and sage.
400g (1 lb) fresh borlotti beans
2 large garlic cloves
1 sprig fresh sage or rosemary
small handful cherry tomatoes
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1/4 tsp red wine vinegar
Pre-heat the oven to 150 degrees (300 farenheit). Pod the borlotti beans into a heavy bottomed, lidded casserole dish. You want them to just cover the bottom.
Add the sage, cherry tomatoes, garlic cloves (peeled), extra virgin olive oil and 400ml (1 2/3 cups) water – if the water does not quite cover the beans, add a little bit more until they do.
Bake the beans, lid on for 3 1/2 to 4 hours, checking every hour or so to make sure they’re not drying out and sticking to the bottom. At the end you want the beans tender with their skins split, and a very scant amount of liquid.
Remove the sage stems for the beans and stir in the vinegar and sea salt, both to taste. If you beans look a little thick, add a splash more water until they reach their desired consistency.
I'm a food writer living in London and the English Countryside. Welcome to my online diary where I share easy, weeknight recipes, foodie travel diaries and some of the best places I've eaten out recently.
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