Borlotti beans with mozzarella

Regent’s Canal is one of my favourite places in London. Starting at Little Venice in the west, it runs through Regent’s Park, past King’s Cross, Angel and Victoria Park before entering the Thames at Limehouse. During my last few years in London, I spent much of my spare time here.

The canal is a towpath – named for its original purpose of transporting goods on the water, towed by men or horses on land. And in the part of Regent’s Canal I frequented most, there’s a cafe that bears the same name.

Established long before this part of East London was hip, Towpath is a small cafe consisting of two, well, sheds – small rooms with no walls or doors on the side facing the canal. In the largest room, a kitchen. In the smallest, a cafe bar. And outside, this part of the canal being a little broader than elsewhere, a few tables and chairs. At some point they also had a small floating dock, but they never managed to make it stable and before long it was put away. Perhaps it was just as well.

The cafe was started by the american food writer Lori De Mori and was soon well known in the area both for its food and the coffee, and the cafe played its part in the gentrifying of the area, now unrecognisable from when Towpath opened just 6-7 years ago.

Borlotti beans from Balat market - A kitchen in Istanbul

This recipe has its root from Towpath. It found me via intermediaries, and I’ve made changes. I’ve not even eaten this dish at Towpath, so I don’t even know if it any longer resembles the original. But it neverthless reminds me of this cosy cafe with the most relaxed atmosphere imaginable which I went pass several times a week during a period of my life.

Borlotti beans - A kitchen in Istanbul

Borlotti beans

Also known as cranberry beans. Common beans with purplish pink speckles and a nutty flavour. Much used in Italy, Turkey, Portugal and Greece.

For this dish I use borlotti beans, beautiful white-ish beans with purplish pink specks and therefore also known as cranberry beans. You can’t avoid taking notice if you see fresh ones, sitting in their beautiful purplish pink patterned pods – unfortunately the beauty disappears at cooking when it turns a light brown. Their nutty flavour is more wholesome than regular white beans such as cannelini, and they’re a staple food here in Turkey as they are in a few other Mediterranean countries, not least Italy. It can be more difficult to get hold of elsewhere, but you can use both canned or dried for this recipe. And if you can’t find it at all, any white bean or even black eyed peas may be substituted.

But once you’ve got the beans and you’ve got them cooked, you’re only five minutes away from a delicious meal. You needn’t much more for dinner than this – a little fresh bread will do. Or rice, if you prefer. A simple tomato salad wouldn’t go amiss either, but it’s entirely up to you. Serves 2-3, depending on what else is on offer.

Borlotti beans with mozzarella - A kitchen in Istanbul

Ingredients

  • 500 g cooked borlotti beans or white beans (drained weight – see tips below)
  • 2 tbsp capers
  • 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 2 tsp dijon mustard
  • 6 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 20 g roughly chopped spring onions  (4-5 pc), green part only
  • 20 g roughly chopped flat leaf parsley (15-20 pc), thick stalks discarded
  • 10 g roughly chopped dill (8-10 pc), thick stalks discarded
  • 3 buffalo mozzarella (or regular mozzarella)
  • 1/2 lemon, in wedges
  • water
  • salt & pepper

My method

  1. Heat the beans in 100 ml water in a large frying pan with high edges.
  2. Whisk together capers, garlic, dijon mustard, extra virgin olive oil and some salt and pepper. Add spring onions, parsley and dill.
  3. When the beans are hot, add the herb mixture and cook for a minute, stirring constantly. Taste for seasoning. Tear the mozzarella into large pieces and pour the beans over. Serve immediately.

Tips

  • If using fresh beans in the pod you’ll need about 1 kg. Remove the beans by snapping the end and pulling the string to open the bean, like a zipper. This will yield c. 500 g beans. Boil in lightly salted water until soft, 30-40 minutes.
  • If using tinned beans you’ll need two tins of 400 g each (or one of 800 g). All you need to do is drain.
  • If using dried beans you’ll need about 200 g. Leave in plenty of water over night, change the water and boil until soft. Times may vary considerably depending on the age of the bean, so check regularly from half an hour onwards. I don’t put salt as it may make it more difficult to soften the beans.
  • Buffalo mozzarella is made from buffalo milk and is (considerably) tastier than regular mozzarella, made from cow’s milk. It is also more expensive. Get buffalo if you can and can afford it, though regular mozzarella will also work well.

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