Borlotti beans with wild fennel

<i>Serves 4 as a starter or a vegetable</i>
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Indy Lifestyle Online

For a change from the usual peas and beans, try these beautifully mottled Italian beans. Their pods are red with white streaks, and when you break them open it reveals beans with an almost reverse design - white with red streaks. The problem with borlotti beans, if you can find fresh ones, is that when you cook the damn things - and you can't really eat them raw - they just lose the effect completely and go a sort of muddy colour. Still, the main thing is the taste. You can buy them in tins though they aren't as good. If you can't find borlotti then use broad beans and replace the wild fennel with dill.

For a change from the usual peas and beans, try these beautifully mottled Italian beans. Their pods are red with white streaks, and when you break them open it reveals beans with an almost reverse design - white with red streaks. The problem with borlotti beans, if you can find fresh ones, is that when you cook the damn things - and you can't really eat them raw - they just lose the effect completely and go a sort of muddy colour. Still, the main thing is the taste. You can buy them in tins though they aren't as good. If you can't find borlotti then use broad beans and replace the wild fennel with dill.

1kg borlotti beans
1 onion, peeled and finely chopped
1 clove of garlic, peeled and crushed
2 slices of pancetta or rindless, smoked streaky bacon, finely chopped
100ml olive oil
250ml vegetable or chicken stock
2 plum tomatoes, skinned, seeded and finely chopped
30g wild fennel (or fennel tops) or dill, chopped
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Pod the beans, then bring a pan of water to the boil and blanch them for 30 seconds, then drain. Gently cook the onion, garlic and pancetta in the olive oil for 2-3 minutes, without colouring, until soft. Add the beans and vegetable stock, season and bring to the boil. Simmer for 10 minutes, then add the tomato and fennel and continue to simmer for another 10 minutes or until the beans are tender. Re-season if necessary and serve hot or at room temperature.

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