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Choice ingredient: Morgwn Preston-Jones on borlotti beans

Categories: Expert guidance

In this regular series, cooks with a connection to Borough Market explore the seasonal ingredients that give them most pleasure. This month Morgwn Preston-Jones, head chef at Bedales, talks about his favourite August ingredient: borlotti beans

My choice ingredient is the borlotti bean. I wait every year for them to come into season in August. Borlotti beans are nice and creamy and have an amazing depth of flavour that makes them extremely versatile as an ingredient.

The borlotti is a variety of kidney bean. It has unusual red streaks on the outside which completely disappear when you cook them and its taste is very unique. I use them in a range of different dishes: you can add them to stews, use them as a delicious filling for a burrito, they can be made into a puree and spread on toast, or even just included as a healthy addition to a salad. They are very adaptable and a great vegan, gluten free option as well.

I’ve been using borlotti beans for as long as I can remember. Sometimes I just bake them with peppers in a wood fired oven and crack an egg over the top for a nice and hearty brunch dish.

An Italian appetiser
I also tend to use them on crostinis, an Italian appetiser that consists of toasted bread with olive oil and various toppings. The beans can be pureed and spread on the crostini along with some ham or any kind of vegetable. They go particularly well with roasted beetroot and I love adding them to salads with some confit tuna.

Preparation begins by removing the beans from their pods and boiling them for around an hour to an hour and a half—it really depends on the age of the bean and whether it has been freshly picked, or if it’s been left on the vine for a while. As with most shelling beans, if the pods are left on the vine they naturally dry out, preserving the beans inside ready for the winter.

It’s commonly thought that you absolutely have to soak beans before cooking them, but I haven’t found that to be the case. I’ve cooked fresh borlotti beans and I’ve cooked dried borlotti beans and either way, I’ve found there really isn’t a great deal of difference whether they’ve been soaked or not.

A funny thing
Beans also work very well in a pressure cooker—it’s as simple as throwing them in for an hour. You’ll be left with the best borlotti beans you’ve ever had. They can be a funny thing, though: they will cook really nicely sometimes, then another batch will suddenly just fall apart and you’re left asking yourself, what happened?! If they do fall apart, you can simply turn them into a puree.

Take them out of the cooking liquid—but remember to save the liquid because you can use it anywhere—and put the beans in a blender. Pulse it, then add some of the cooking liquid. The amount you add depends on how thick you want the puree to be—if you’re making a dipping puree, you probably don’t need much of the cooking liquid. Just use a little bit of olive oil and season with salt and pepper.

Another ingredient that is in season right now is the sweet pepper and it works perfectly with fresh borlotti. They can be roasted together and added to a huge number of different dishes—a simple base of borlotti beans would work well to complement pork chops with some braised apples, for example.

Bring out their flavours
One of our seasonal dishes is a grilled and smoked pork chop with borlotti beans, roast peppers and pistou, which is similar to a pesto but made using garlic, fine herbs and olive oil. The recipe is quite simple—the ingredients are all left pretty much as they are—but the addition of pistou acts to brighten up the other ingredients and bring out their flavours.