Soft warm air shimmering its way up from the glittering harbour of Palma Mallorca, it was one of those early summer mornings when we could luxuriate in the almost certain knowledge that we had the whole day ahead of us with no plan other to explore the narrow streets of Santa Catalina as the pavement cafes quietly start to bounce back into life after the wine-fuelled madness of the night before. But nature had other ideas and blew in an almighty storm so, instead, the next few hours were spent idling away time in a tiny cafe whose cement rendered walls were lined with shelves of local wine, bright baskets of freshly picked lemons and piles of colourful recipe books. At a long wooden table sat two friends chatting excitedly together over cups of steaming coffee and a carafe filled with pink carnations. Two more sat at the bar vicariously swaying on tall stools the colour of a stormy Mediterranean. As the lunch crowd began to bluster in, we decided to stay on for bowls of lusciously plump white beans, creamy polenta and garlicky greens, a cluster of dishes I’ve reimagined as one here. My inspiration was a jar of beautifully seasoned Spanish heirloom queen butter beans recently gifted to me by my friend Amelia, founder of Bold Bean Co, purveyors of some of the finest legumes I have ever tasted and, because I virtually live on them, you should know that I am very discerning indeed.
1 tbsp Spanish extra-virgin olive oil, plus extra to serve
1 clove garlic, grated
1 small red onion, halved and thinly sliced
2 Romano peppers, cut into thin rings
Half tsp Pimentón de La Vera Picante, plus extra to serve
x1 650g jar Spanish queen butter beans, drained and rinsed
120g baby spinach leaves
180ml hot vegetable stock
2 tsp sherry vinegar
For the polenta:
200g instant polenta, semola de maiz
100g Manchego cheese, finely grated
Knob French unsalted butter
Sea salt flakes and freshly ground mixed peppercorns
How I make it
Place a large frying pan over a medium heat and add the olive oil and garlic stirring until fragrant. Add the prepared onions and pepper and sauté until soft, about five minutes.
Meanwhile prepare the polenta as per the instructions on the pack. Sir in the cheese and the butter. Season to your taste. Cover and set aside.
Add the pimentón to the onion mix and stir around for a few seconds. Then add the beans, spinach and stock. Cook for a few minutes until everything is warmed through and the spinach has wilted, gently re-heating the polenta at the same time (loosening it with a little more boiling water if necessary).
Add the vinegar to the beans. Place the cooked polenta into individual bowls and top with the cooked beans. Finish with a drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkling of pimentón de vera.
Serve alongside a simple green salad, crusty bread and a glass of chilled dry sherry.