It seems to me Italians tend not to do vegetable mixtures like ratatouille; it’s more like they take one vegetable and love it up, and if there are other vegetables in the recipe they’re sapori – background flavour.
Take broad beans (called le fave in Italian). My girlfriend Clare grows her own and she does the Roman thing with them: pod baby broad beans, don’t bother blanching the beans – just dress them raw in fruity olive oil and fold through some nibs of salty pecorino romana, a hard sheep’s cheese. It’s an excellent snack or side salad.
In the Le Marche they’re a popular vegetable judging from the fields devoted to growing them above our house – although you rarely see them on a menu. I looked at my all-in-Italian Marchigiani cookery book and it lists about 5 different ways of cooking broad beans. Here is one of them called fave alle acciughe – broad beans with an anchovy and marjoram dressing. The recipe calls for fresh marjoram, which isn’t readily available in the shops, so I use a mixture of oregano and lemon thyme. The quantities below is enough for 4 people.
700g broad beans, shelled
2 garlic cloves, new season ones for preference
2 anchovy fillets
1 tablespoon each of oregano and lemon thyme leaves – or 2 of marjoram if you have it
1 tablespoon of white wine vinegar
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Boil the beans for 5 minutes, drain and then shell them when they’re cool enough to handle; lord knows I’ve tried different ways of speeding this task up and none of them work. This is a labour of love, but it makes a big difference both visually and taste-wise to the finished dish.
Pound the garlic and anchovy in a pestle and mortar until you’ve got a paste. Add half the oregano and thyme and bash them in, followed by the vinegar and olive oil. Add more oil until you’ve got more a chunky dressing than a pesto consistency and stir in the rest of the herbs.
Fold this dressing through the beans. You could heat it through very gently to serve it warm, or leave out it of the fridge for an hour or so to let the flavours mingle. I reckon this could be turned into a Meal In One salad by adding avocado, feta, fried bacon and spinach leaves. Very un-Italian!