It’s fava bean season, and I’ve just returned from picking a basketful of fat green pods from my lovingly tended terraced and trellised hilltop garden, with its fairy tale view overlooking that quaint medieval village…
The truth is, I feel a little disingenuous writing about fava beans. I don’t have any growing in my suburban D.C. yard, which around here is known as the Garden of Neglect, and which at the moment contains one giant mound of mint and a surprisingly healthy bush of flat-leaf parsley that wintered over of its own accord.
If I want favas, I have to search them out at farmers markets or buy them at my local gourmet grocery store to the tune of $3.99 a pound (still in their pods). I do buy them, just once or twice during their brief season. I buy them for their audacious inch worm-green color, for their silky texture, for their buttery, slightly bitter flavor. And yes, sometimes I pretend, as I sit at my kitchen table and pry open the soft, cushioned pods, that I am sitting at a little wrought iron table in that fantasy garden.
Not everyone is enamored of fava beans, and by that I mean the amount of “work” that it takes to open their pods, which don’t unzip easily the way pea pods do. And then there is the peeling, for after they are shelled they must also be peeled. The only exceptions are the tiniest, newest fava beans, which can be enjoyed raw and unpeeled. For the rest, peeling is necessary and entails boiling them for a couple of minutes in salted water, shocking them in an ice water bath, and then popping them out of their tough outer-skin jackets. At this point it becomes clear just how meager their yield is—one pound in the pod amounts to a scant cup of shelled and peeled beans. You have to ask yourself: Is it worth it?
For me the answer is yes. I have never minded those small, repetitive kitchen tasks—shelling, peeling, pitting. These are tasks that invite contemplation, and I much prefer them to, say, cleaning out the garage or folding the laundry. And favas are a true seasonal delight . Eating them is like eating spring—green, fresh, and sweet, with a shade of bitterness. Alhough their yield is small, one or two cups of shelled and peeled favas can go a long way.
Here are some ideas for cooking with shelled and peeled favas:
* Sauté with baby artichokes, spring onions, peas, and shredded tender lettuce. This spring ‘stew’ is known in parts of Italy as ‘la Vignarola’ and can be enjoyed with good bread or tossed with cooked egg noodles.
* Stir into risotto, as you would fresh peas or asparagus.
* Cook in vegetable stock with onions, pancetta, and spring herbs such as mint and marjoram. Serve as an accompaniment to salmon.
* Braise in milk with spring herbs and serve as an accompaniment to lamb.
* Make a spring vegetable minestrone, with favas, peas, carrots, spring onions, and ditalini pasta.
* Sauté in olive oil with minced herbs (mint, oregano, marjoram, parsley, rosemary—whatever you like). Add a couple of tablespoons of broth or cream, season with salt and pepper, and mash coarsely. Spread the purée on crostini and garnish with shavings of pecorino cheese and a drizzle of olive oil.
Most important, don’t delay. Laundry is forever, but fava beans are for right now.
Do you cook fava beans in spring? I’d love to hear your suggestions.