Saturday, June 14, 2008

Fresh borlotti beans with prawns

Originally uploaded by Suzi Edwards
I’ve become slightly obsessed with Giorgio Locatelli’s book “Made In Italy, Food & Stories” recently. Not just because I almost had to pay an excess luggage charge to bring it back to Australia (it’s slightly heavier than a small breeze block), but it’s a great overview of Italian regional cookery and the life of a chef.

So it was a rainy Monday public holiday in Sydney, and decided to cook from it.

I’d picked up some beautiful fresh borlotti beans from (yes, you’ve guessed it) the Norton Street Grocer and some prawns from David Jones Food Hall. The beans didn’t let me down and podding them was a joy, revealing the speckled beans that look like little pink lizard’s eggs. The prawns were a bit meagre, but luckily I had bought plenty, so we didn’t go hungry.

This could be classed as cooking for inept single men. You don’t have to make the shellfish stock or cook beans from fresh, but sometimes it’s nice to go to a little extra effort, isn’t it?

Ingredients (for two as a starter, one greedy weasel as a main course)
About 400g of fresh borlotti beans, podded
½ head of unpeeled garlic, plus two extra cloves, minced
1 stalk of celery
Some herbs, I used parsley and sage
Nice olive oil
As many prawns as you fancy. I used medium sized green prawns
1 long chilli pepper (not too fiery, don’t use a birds eye one)
Some nice white wine (I used a pinot grigio from Harndorf Hill winery in Adelaide)
A couple of tablespoons of passata

To serve
Some chopped parsley
Some minced garlic
Your best olive oil

Start by cooking your beans. You want to boil them in plenty of unsalted water with the garlic, herbs and celery. It’s important to not salt the beans as salting them now will make them really tough. Which is appealing in an action hero, but less so in a bean. Cover them in cold water, bring to the boil and skim off any scum. Reduce the heat and simmer, with the lid on, until they’re soft to the bite (probably about 45 minutes to one hour). Once cooked, keep them warmish (I just left the lid on the pan).

At this point, heat your oven to about 180 degrees.

Peel your prawns, leaving the heads on and remove the digestive tract. This can be a bit fiddly if you’ve never done it before. I recommend first running your thumb down the underside of the prawn, which loosens the shell, and then peeling from there. Save the shells for the stock. Once peeled, lay your prawn down and slice the tail in two (known as butterflying). As you slice through you’ll be able to remove the digestive tract which runs along the top of the prawn. If you’re unfamiliar with the anatomy of a prawn, it looks like a thinnish black line encased in a membrane. To be honest though, you’ll be able to tell. Prawn crap is quite distinctive.

To make your stock, heat a couple of tablespoons of olive oil in a pan and sauté the shells with a splash of white wine, about half a chilli, a couple of smashed garlic cloves and a tablespoon of passata. Add enough water to cover, but don’t go mad as we’re trying to concentrate the flavours. Cook for no more than 10 minutes and then strain through a sieve, making sure you scronch down the shells and push all the flavour through. Don’t forget to scrape the underside of the sieve, the stock will be thick and concentrated here. Just stir it in.

You’ll need your biggest pan. If all of the prawns won’t fit, cook in two batches. We want to fry the prawns and get them caramelizing, not steam them. Heat your oil, add the garlic and chilli and cook for a few moments to flavour the oil. Do not allow the garlic to burn. This is the critical part of the recipe. Burnt garlic tastes of ass. Season the prawns and drop them into the pans on their backs. Resist the urge to shake or stir, let them caramelize. Once this had happened, press down on the heads to release the brains. I’ll let you into a secret. Prawn heads are the best bit of a prawn. Next time you have them, suck the heads. Pure concentrated essence of prawn. Don’t want the heads, I’ll have yours. Once cooked, keep your prawns warm in the oven. You did turn it on, didn’t you?

Use a slotted spoon to add the beans to the pan that you cooked the prawns in, season and bring to the boil. You’re going to sauce the beans, either with some of the cooking water or the stock (depending on how much effort you wanted to go to). If you’re using the water, add the passata and some wine, but don’t let the sauce get too thin. Crush some of the beans to mingle the flavours from the prawns and to thicken the sauce.

I plated this by placing the beans in the centre of the plate and then artfully arranged the prawns ontop, drizzled with some best olive oil and some chopped parsley, a couple of rings of chilli and some garlic.

A full photoset is available on Flickr


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