I have found them under both the counter and the fridge. Every week, I prise a flat, hard thing from the bottom of my foot, wondering what it is, and then I remember. At the end of spring, I bought a few kilos of broad beans in their pods, because they were going cheap. Cheap because the pods were huge and knobbly with beans the size of small kidneys, and whose skins were like leather and seeds well on the way to being dried. I decided this was the summer to keep beans, so I sat watching a film on my computer while flicking the beans out of their pods, levering off their wretched coats and laying out the dozens of ivory pairs on three wooden boards to dry.
It was satisfying, for a day, but after moving the boards around our small flat and terrace, it quickly felt like an annoying game. Moving meant the boards were increasingly messy, with the beans sliding and falling, which, I suppose, is why I kept finding them in plant pots or in the sink, a testament to my aggressive moving. They seemed fewer as I tipped them into a jar, glad to see the back of them.
Vicia faba, ancient North African beans with flowers like butterflies and velvet-lined pods that travelled and settled all over the globe, are known by many names: faba, baqella, fūl, haba, fava, broad bean, horse bean. When young, both pods and beans are tender, but as they grow and age, the sugar turns to starch, both the pod and skins thicken, and the two split seeds inside start to harden (in an act of self-preservation). The process can be continued with beans in pods, or podded, which means the seed coat dries to a leathery tan colour around the seeds inside. Whole dried beans need soaking before boiling.
The other way is to dry the beans without their skins, so the seeds (or cotyledons) split and dry apart, and look rather like bone buttons. Split broad beans don’t need soaking, although doing so will help speed up the cooking, especially if you are making a broad bean puree – a near to perfect food, I think – versions of which are found everywhere Vicia faba are. This is an Italian version inspired by the Puglian and Sicilian purees traditionally topped with greens, but here with braised summer vegetables.
I am not going to lie, the satisfaction was huge as I pulled my ex-pickle jar of terrace-dried beans out of the cupboard and tipped them into a pan. (There were enough for only one, so I added some I bought, too.) I was just about to pour over a jug of water when my nine-year-old grabbed a handful. It had been a long, suspended summer and I am not patient, so I yelled, “Stop!”
“You stop,” he replied, “don’t wet the game.” Then, using one bean on another like a tiddlywink, he sent the small dried bean across the table, where it bounced before landing on the floor, and it all made sense.
Broad bean favata with courgettes and tomatoes
300g dried broad beans
1 large potatoes, peeled and sliced into rounds
200g sweet cherry tomatoes
2 garlic cloves, peeled and squashed
1 pinch red chilli flakes
If you have the time, soak the dried beans in cold water for a few hours; if you don’t have time, don’t worry – they will just take longer to cook.
Put the beans in a large pan with the potato, then pour over a litre and a half of cold water. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cook, stirring every now and then, for 25 minutes to an hour.
Meanwhile, top and tail the courgettes, cut them in half longways, then slice into 5mm-thick half-moons. Quarter the tomatoes.
Gently warm some oil in a frying pan, add the garlic and chilli and leave to sizzle gently for a few minutes. Add the courgettes and a pinch of salt, stir to coat with oil, then leave to fry gently for about five minutes. Add the tomatoes and simmer until the courgettes are tender and the tomatoes saucy. Add a handful of basil and salt to taste.
Meanwhile, return your attention to the favata. By the end of cooking, you should have a soft cream. For something even smoother, blitz with an immersion blender. Season with salt.
Serve the favata in bowls topped with a spoonful of the courgettes and tomatoes and a zigzag of olive oil.