The first broad beans in the shops are usually from Italy, their small pods as lumpy as a Christmas stocking, their contents needing only the briefest of cooking. I buy a brown paper bagful as a treat after what feels like months of winter roots, boiling them and scattering them over a plate of culatello and a flood of milky burrata. Such beans are like jewels and almost as expensive, so for now at least I am cooking with frozen – perhaps the second most successful of all freezer-stored vegetables – until the fresh ones come down in price.
I wanted an uncomplicated filling for a pie with which to celebrate spring. I made a stuffing from lightly cooked spinach and feta similar to that of a classic spanakopita, then introduced lemon zest, black pepper and some lightly cooked broad beans. Rather than wrapping the filing in the usual square parcels, I rolled the stuffed filo pastry up like a sausage roll and curled it round itself 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 curly frisée leaves dressed with olive oil, mustard and cream.
While I wait for the cheaper local beans to arrive, I dig the last haul bag from the freezer and blitz them into a fresh, verdant cream to scoop up with homemade flatbreads. The dough for the little breads was seasoned with dried thyme and the puréed beans with tahini and shreds of dill. We dipped over and over again, but also rolled the soft, floury breads, spread with the green bean cream, sprigs of watercress and slices of crisp, green shouldered tomatoes, and ate them like wraps.
Broad bean, spinach and filo pie
You can probably get away with using the small round “salad” spinach leaves for this but, if you can, hunt out the thicker variety with crisp stems and leaves like pointed arrows. The flavour is better and they don’t collapse to a mush when cooked. Serves 4-6
broad beans 500g, shelled weight
lemon finely grated zest of half
filo pastry 6 sheets
olive oil for brushing
sesame seeds 2 tsp
Put a medium-sized saucepan of water on to boil. Tip in the broad beans and leave to cook for 7-8 minutes until tender. They may be done in less, so keep checking. Drain the beans, then pop them out of their grey skins and set aside. If you quickly cool them in a colander under a cold tap they will retain their lovely bright colour.
Wash the spinach very thoroughly to remove every little bit of sand and grit and remove the stalks. You will end up with about 300g of leaves. While the leaves are still wet, put them into a large, deep pan over a low to moderate heat and without adding any further liquid, cover with a tight lid and cook for a few minutes. Turn the leaves occasionally with kitchen tongs until they are wilted and dark emerald green. Drain the leaves in a colander or sieve, then cool under running cold water.
Squeeze the spinach almost dry with your hands. (You can leave a little moisture in there, but the spinach should not be soggy.) Set aside in a bowl, then add the finely grated zest, the cooked broad beans and season with black pepper. Crumble the feta into the spinach and mix briefly. Depending on how salty your feta is, you may want to add a little sea salt to the mixture.
Heat the oven to 200C/gas mark 7. Place an empty oven sheet in the oven on which to bake your pie. Lightly oil a 22cm springform cake tin.
Place a sheet of filo pastry on a floured board or work surface with its longest side facing you, then brush it with a little of the olive oil. Place a second sheet on top, brush with oil, then place one-third of the spinach mixture in a line about 5cm in from the edge facing you. Then, rolling away from you, roll the pastry into a thick sausage shape. Place the pastry into the middle of the cake tin, coiling it round itself round in a swirl.
Now repeat with the remaining pieces of pastry and filling, rolling them up as before and adding to the tin. Push the cut edges of the rolls of pastry together to join them in one long ring. Brush with a little more of the oil and scatter lightly with sesame seeds.
Place the tin on the preheated baking sheet and bake for 40-45 minutes until the pastry is crisp and golden, then transfer with a metal slice to a wooden serving board or large plate.
Broad bean and tahini cream
It seems like a lot to pod 500g. I suggest using frozen for this. Add dill or not, as you wish, and I think you might like to be generous with the lemon. Serves 2-3 as a dip with bread
broad beans 500g, podded weight
tahini 2 tbsp
olive oil 4 tbsp
lemon juice of ½ a small one
dill a few sprigs
Bring a deep pan of water to the boil. Salt it lightly, then add the broad beans and let them cook for 7-8 minutes until tender. If they are really young beans, then they may be done in 4 or 5 minutes, so keep checking.
Drain them, pop them out of their thin, grey-green skins and put them in the bowl of a food processor. Add the tahini, then pour in the olive oil, and process for a minute or so until smooth. With the blender still going, add the lemon juice and a grinding of salt. Continue until the mixture is smooth.
Finely chop the dill and stir in. Using a rubber spatula, transfer the purée to a serving bowl, then pour over a little olive oil. I like to keep a small fistful of beans back to add to the serving bowl.
Follow Nigel on Twitter @NigelSlater