July - Garden Leave

Janet Wynne Evans serves up broad beans carbonara-style

Broad Beans, Carbonara StyleDuring my working life, I have been both paid and unemployed, but never at the same time, so my definition of garden leave is rather more literal. That is to say, I have a garden, and I leave it.

Consequently, and despite the occasional interventions of a deluded husband who can actually destroy mint, or of green-fingered and gifted friends, it's a wild and woolly affair that says everything about me, from the general disorder which I don't, by the way, consider a flaw, to the percentage of edible things that flourish unattended in it:

Mint gone mad (he doesn't kill all of it), last year's parsley which carried on growing through the mild, wet winter, horseradish I admit I've never dug up, and a perverse clump of borage that never seeds itself in the same place twice. Lemon balm, sage, thyme, golden marjoram and rosemary all thrive, framed by an ever-increasing laurel, a plucky olive tree bearing one tiny, rock-hard specimen and a wall of vines with lush leaves to line a cheeseboard now and the promise of spiced grape jelly in the autumn.

If I paid more attention, I could also have serried ranks of well-behaved vegetables, rather than weeds on the warpath, but would the necessary manicuring have discouraged my lucky strike - an inexplicable bed of wild strawberries?

I do suffer the occasional pang of envy, especially now, when I'd love to wander out and harvest a trug of tender little courgettes or broad beans that need no skinning. Fortunately, the recipe that follows is delicious even with frozen broad beans and imported herbs. The bacon and sage conspire to make me hanker after a simple, fruity, unoaked red from northern Italy, but a full-bodied white (and here, a bit of oak is a plus) will do the job too. Chill it in an ice-bucket while deploying your ranting borage in a pre-prandial Pimm's, or muddling your mad mint into a mojito to sip appreciatively as you survey your domaine, orderly or disorderly, at this most bountiful time of year.

Broad Beans, Carbonara Style

Serves four as a starter or side-dish

  • 2kg young broad beans
  • 150g unsmoked lardons
  • 10g butter
  • A few leaves of fresh sage, rolled up together and shredded
  • 100ml crème fraîche
  • 1 egg, yolk only (leave this out if you are wary of semi-cooked eggs)
  • Salt and black pepper

Have ready a bowl of water with some ice-cubes in it.

Pod the beans and throw into a pan of boiling water into which you have put a tablespoon of salt. If they are garden-fresh, give them just 1 minute after they have come back to the boil. If they have been hanging around a bit, give them two, but no more. Drain them quickly and plunge them into the iced water. As soon as they are cool enough, transfer them to a colander and slip off their outer skins to reveal their tender, bright green hearts. You may feel this step to be unnecessary, especially if the beans have just been harvested. Your call.

Heat a non-stick pan on a gentle flame. Add the lardons, letting them render their fat gently. As soon as they are beginning to look transparent (don't let them brown), add the beans, the butter and the sage and cook for a few minutes. Next, add the cream and let it bubble for 5 minutes. Taste and season.

Finally stir in the egg yolk, and take off the heat before it scrambles. Serve without delay with a watercress salad, or serve in smaller portions as a bed for grilled salmon or chicken.

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