tThe first fava beans to hit the shelves are usually from Italy, their tiny pods lumpy like Christmas stocking, and the contents only need a very short boil. I buy a brown paper bag as a treat after what feels like months of winter carrots, boil them and sprinkle them over a plate of culatello and a stream of milky burrata. Such beans are like jewels and almost as expensive, so for now I’ll at least cook with frozen ones—perhaps the second most successful of all frozen vegetables—until the fresh ones drop in price.
I wanted an uncomplicated filling for a cake to celebrate spring. I made a filling of lightly cooked spinach and feta, similar to that of a classic spanakopita, then added lemon zest, black pepper and some lightly cooked fava beans. Instead of wrapping the file in the usual square packets, I rolled up the stuffed filo like a sausage roll and curled it around like a Cumberland sausage. It came to the table, crisp and bronze, on a wooden board, on which we cut it into short thick slices and ate it with curled frisée leaves, dressed with olive oil, mustard and cream.
While I wait for the cheaper local beans to arrive, I dig the last bag from the freezer and grind them into a fresh green cream to scoop up with homemade flatbreads. The dough for the small rolls was seasoned with dried thyme and the mashed beans with tahini and chopped dill. We dipped over and over, but also rolled the soft, floury loaves, topped with the green bean cream, sprigs of watercress, and slices of crisp, green shoulder tomatoes, and ate them as wraps.
Broad bean, spinach and filo dough
You can probably get away with using the small round “salad” spinach leaves for this, but if you can, look for the thicker variety with crispy stems and leaves like pointed arrows. The taste is better and they don’t collapse when cooked. Serves 4-6
broad beans 500 g, peeled weight
lemon finely grated zest of half
filo dough 6 sheets
olive oil to brush
sesame seeds 2 teaspoons
Bring a medium saucepan of water to a boil. Add the broad beans and cook for 7-8 minutes until tender. They can be done in less, so keep checking. Drain the beans, remove them from their gray shells and set aside. If you cool them quickly in a colander under the cold tap, they will keep their beautiful bright color.
Wash the spinach very thoroughly to remove every little bit of sand and grit and remove the stalks. You will end up with about 300 g of leaves. Place the leaves, still wet, in a large, deep saucepan over low to medium heat and without adding any more liquid, cover with a tight-fitting lid and cook for a few minutes. Turn the leaves occasionally with kitchen tongs until they have shrunken and are dark emerald green. Drain the leaves in a colander or sieve and let them cool under running cold water.
Squeeze the spinach almost dry with your hands. (You can leave a little liquid in, but the spinach should not be soggy.) Set aside in a bowl, then add the grated zest, cooked fava beans and season with black pepper. Crumble the feta through the spinach and mix briefly. Depending on how salty your feta is, you can add a little sea salt to the mixture.
Preheat the oven to 200C/gas mark 7. Place an empty baking tray in the oven on which you will bake your cake. Lightly grease a 22 cm diameter springform pan.
Place a sheet of filo pastry on a floured board or work surface with the longest side facing you, then brush with a little olive oil. Place a second sheet on top, brush with oil and place a third of the spinach mixture in a line about 5cm from the edge facing you. Then roll the dough away from you into a thick sausage shape. Place the dough in the center of the cake tin and roll it around in a swirl.
Now repeat with the remaining pieces of dough and filling, roll them up as before and add them to the mold. Press the cut edges of the rolling pins together to form one long ring. Brush with a little more of the oil and sprinkle lightly with sesame seeds.
Place the mold on the preheated baking sheet and bake for 40-45 minutes until the dough is crispy and golden brown, then transfer with a metal slice to a wooden serving board or large plate.
Broad beans and tahini cream
Seems like a lot to pod 500g. I recommend using frozen for this. Add dill or not as you wish, and I think you might want to be generous with the lemon. Serves 2-3 as a dip with bread
broad beans 500 g, weight peeled
tahini 2 tablespoons
olive oil 4 tablespoons
lemon juice from a small
dill a few twigs
Bring a deep pan of water to a boil. Salt it lightly, then add the fava beans and cook for 7-8 minutes until tender. If they are really young beans, they will be ready in 4 or 5 minutes, so keep checking.
Drain, remove from their thin, grey-green skins and place in the bowl of a food processor. Add the tahini, pour in the olive oil and process for a minute or so until smooth. While the blender is still running, add the lemon juice and a little salt. Continue until the mixture is smooth.
Finely chop the dill and stir in. Transfer the puree to a serving bowl with a rubber spatula and pour over a little olive oil. I like to keep a small handful of beans to add to the serving bowl.
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