Broad beans are the only bean native to Europe and have been eaten - at least - since the Bronze Age. Their long, flat, slightly dimpled green pods are lined with a pale velvety padding protecting up to eight large seeds or beans inside. Also known as fava, broad beans are best in spring when they are young, sweet and have a nutty, vegetal taste.
Towards end of season they are larger, tougher and more floury. The pod is usually discarded, often the skins of the beans are too, but when very young - less than 10cm long - the pods, skins and beans can be eaten in their entirety. In fact the leaves of the plant are edible too.
There are many varieties of fresh broad beans, differing slightly in terms of colour, length and bean shape, but there is little difference in terms of flavour. The brown flat ful medames of Middle Eastern cuisines is a brown broad bean, which is often sold dried.
Italians like to eat broad beans raw in spring with fresh sheep's milk cheese. In Sicily they are cooked in fritella, a caper-flavoured stew of spring vegetables. Try them in salads with feta cheese, mint and lemon juice, or mixed into parsley sauce to serve with ham. Fresh green herbs such as savoury and dill work well with broad beans. In China they are served simply boiled with dressings of garlic, chilli, soy sauce and sesame. Turn older broad beans into a mash to serve warm with pork or cold on oatcakes, or add mild spices to make a dip for flat bread and crudités.