Pulses & grains

Pulses & grains

By
Skye Gyngell
Contains
6 recipes
Published by
Quadrille Publishing
ISBN
9781844006212
Photographer
Jason Lowe

Pulses and grains are probably the mainstay of my cooking, appearing in different guises on the restaurant menu, but also in my cooking at home. They are primarily the foods that my children have grown up on – and what I crave to eat myself. Inexpensive and nutritious, it is no wonder that they feature so prominently in peasant cooking. They also transgress the seasons, as you can enjoy fresh pulses during the summer months and the more familiar dried pulses from autumn through winter and spring.

Cooked with sympathetic flavourings, pulses and grains taste not only delicious, but also good for you, which they are. This is my favourite kind of food… when I eat, I like to feel that my body is benefiting from what I am putting into it. That is not to say that I am preoccupied with health in any way – health fads are strange to me and dull food is inexcusable to my mind. I want to eat food that is satisfying and full of flavour, and this is what I endeavour to cook.

Among my favourite pulses and grains are beautiful borlotti beans, cannellini beans, little lentils from Puy or Umbria, arrocina – a lovely little white bean from Spain, farro from Italy and coco beans, which I’ve only ever encountered fresh during the summer. We pod fresh pulses and cook them briefly until tender during the summer months. In winter we soak dried beans overnight and braise them slowly and gently to serve with slow-cooked lamb or beef, or to add in moderation to seafood stews. It is important not to overdo it though, or you’ll make the dish feel heavy.

Dried pulses are available all year round, but ideally you want to be cooking last year’s harvest. Buy from speciality shops, such as Middle Eastern or Italian or Greek, where you think the turnover is likely to be high and therefore the produce fresh.

Ideally dried beans should always be soaked overnight, then drained and cooked with herbs, garlic, perhaps a tomato or two and a dried chilli. Never add salt until they begin to soften, as it toughens the skins. If, like me, remembering to pre-soak pulses is beyond your usual level of organisation, there is a way round... Rinse the beans, place them in a pan and cover with cold water, then bring to the boil. Drain, return to the pan and cover a second time with cold water flavoured with aromatics or whatever the recipe demands, then cook as if the beans have been pre-soaked.

One of the things I love about pulses and grains more than anything else is their ability to absorb flavours. This is most apparent if you dress them while hot with extra virgin olive oil, a good-quality red wine vinegar or lemon juice, salt, Parmesan and herbs – sage or rosemary in the winter; basil, mint or parsley during spring and summer; marjoram, thyme or oregano in autumn. Other flavourings that go with all pulses and grains are garlic, fresh and dried chilli, ripe tomatoes, duck, red meat, fish and shellfish, cream and smoky bacon.

Farro, in particular, has an amazing ability to absorb flavours. I have fallen in love with this grain in recent years, eating it at every opportunity. One of the most ancient of all grains, it is said to have given the Roman foot soldiers the strength to conquer Europe! Known also as spelt, it is no longer fashionable except in Italy where it is used in soups, but I strongly urge you to try some…

We grow borlotti beans in our vegetable garden. They climb on willow cages skilfully constructed by Lucy, our gardener every couple of years. Magenta and cream in colour, these elegant beans are one of nature’s wonders as their colours are reversed inside the pods. Strangely, once cooked, they turn a dull mousey brown, but what they lose in beauty they more than make up for in flavour.

Recipes in this Chapter

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