Beans love herbs and cheese. So why not do them together? This delicious dish of borlotti beans with mozzarella is inspired by one of my favourite London cafés. It’s super simple and quick to make – perfect for lunch with some crusty fresh bread.
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, its original purpose being the transporting of goods on the water, towed by men or horses on land. In the part of Regent’s Canal I frequented the most, a café 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 café 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, though it was soon deemed too unstable and put out of use. Perhaps just as well.
A recipe inspired by Towpath
The cafe was started by the american food writer Lori De Mori. It soon made a name in the area. Both for its food and for its coffee. The café certainly played its part in the gentrifying of the area, now unrecognisable from when Towpath opened just 6-7 years ago.
Update: As of 2021, De Mori has published the Towpath Cookbook (affiliate link) with recipes from the café.
This recipe has its root from Towpath. It found me via intermediaries, and I’ve made changes.
I’ve not in fact eaten this dish at Towpath, so I don’t even know if it any longer resembles the original. But it nevertheless reminds me of this cosy café with the most relaxed atmosphere imaginable which I went past several times a week during a period of my life.
Beautiful borlotti beans with mozzarella
For this dish I use borlotti beans. Beautiful white beans with purplish pink specks. Americans will know them 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, but the flavour and texture is unrivalled in the world of beans.
The slightly nutty flavour of borlotti beans is more wholesome than regular white beans such as cannellini. Borlotti beans are a staple food here in Turkey, where they’re known as barbunya, and indeed much of the northern Mediterranean.
Elsewhere, it can be more difficult to find in its fresh state. In that case, 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.
Here, the creaminess and nuttiness of the beans are matched perfectly by the acidity and freshness of mustard, capers and herbs. Add in another layer of creaminess in the shape of the best mozzarella you can find, and I’m in heaven.
While borlotti beans with mozzarella it’s perfect for lunch, you don’t in fact need much more than this for a light dinner either. A little fresh, crusty bread on the side will do. Or rice, if you prefer. A simple tomato salad wouldn’t go amiss either, but it’s entirely up to you.
The recipe serves 2-3, depending on what else is on offer.
- 500 g cooked borlotti beans or white beans (from fresh, dried or tinned – see notes below)
- 2 Tbsp capers, drained
- 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
- 2 tsp dijon mustard
- 6 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- 20 g roughly chopped spring onions (green part only) (4-5 pc)
- 20 g roughly chopped flat leaf parsley (without thick stalks)
- 10 g roughly chopped dill (without thick stalks)
- 3x125 g buffalo mozzarella (or regular mozzarella)
- ½ lemon, in wedges
- salt & pepper
- Heat the beans in 100 ml water in a large frying pan with high edges.
- Whisk together capers, garlic, dijon mustard, extra virgin olive oil and some salt and pepper. Add spring onions, parsley and dill.
- 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.
- 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.