Not only does it look lovely, but a small mountain of broad beans in their pods, a piece of pecorino and an invitation to eat the two together is a good way to start a meal. For the combination of flavours (grassy beans and sharp cheese), but also for the group activity and concentration required to get the beans out of their velour-lined pods and matched with the right amount of cheese. Some people really apply themselves to the task and double pod each bean, getting the bright-green disc out of the opaque skin with a nail. I don’t mind the slightly bitter outer coat, especially if the beans are small.
For many Italians, eating fave e pecorino is not only a traditional part of 1 May, the festa dei lavoratori, whether at home, in a restaurant or sitting on a rug in the park, but a habit while broad beans are around. We were brought some the other evening in an osteria (also a plate of salami and some fried dough balls), which, in that hungry moment, tasted like heaven.
A variation on the fave e pecorino theme is the first of three salad suggestions this week: broad beans, soft butterhead or little gem lettuce, pecorino and mint. You can use fresh or frozen broad beans for this, but either way, you need about 300g. It is worth double-peeling half of them for this salad, even if they are quite small. The best way to do this is by putting them in a sieve and then the sieve in a bowl and covering the lot in boiling water. After 30 seconds, pull out the sieve and run it under the cold tap, after which the bean skins should pop off if you squeeze one end hard enough (although be careful to shoot them into a bowl, not across the kitchen). The other half can keep their opaque coats on.
In a bowl, mix all the beans with a couple of washed and dried little gem or large butterhead lettuce leaves, a good amount of extra-virgin olive oil, a pinch of salt, a handful of ripped mint leaves and thin slices, or potato peeler curls, of pecorino. Of course, if you want to add lemon or a bit of vinegar, you can. I love this salad with roast chicken, and also stuffed into a split focaccia or pitta pocket, maybe with some ricotta.
Lemon is vital for the next idea, artichokes and parmesan. Using a sharp knife, trim two large or four small, tender, purple artichokes and stems of all of their tough parts. Cut in four, then slice each quarter very thinly before tossing with lemon juice, which stops them discolouring and also adds a nice amount of acidity. Arrange the artichoke slices on a plate, then top with thin slices of parmesan (again, a peeler is useful here). Thanks to the cheese and lemon, you probably won’t need more salt, but taste to make sure. I have been told several times that writing “drizzle”, “zigzag” and “top with” are all extremely annoying descriptions for olive oil, so instead finish with extra-virgin olive oil – and plenty of it. Again, great with roast chicken, or frittata.
The third idea is inspired by the way Romans serve a variety of chicory (called puntarelle) with anchovy dressing, but using frizzy endive instead and adding croutons. Pull apart a head of endive, wash, dry and break the leaves into small pieces. For the dressing, mix six tablespoons of olive oil with a minced clove of garlic, three anchovy fillets and a tablespoon each of lemon juice and red-wine vinegar (taste and adjust). I use a mini blender to make the dressing, but a pestle and mortar is an even better way, because the pounding results in a great texture. Alternatively, mince the garlic and anchovies with a sharp knife and shake them with the other ingredients in a jam jar. Cut a couple of slices of white bread into 2cm cubes, spread on a baking tray, rub with oil and bake until golden. To serve, mix the endive with the dressing, add the croutons and mix again. And, yes, this one, too, is great with roast chicken. But, really, what salad isn’t?
UK readers: click to buy these ingredients from Ocado