Laundry Is Forever, Fava Beans Are For Now

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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.

 Purea di fave fresche (fresh fava bean puree)

 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.

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30 Responses to Laundry Is Forever, Fava Beans Are For Now

  1. ciaochowlinda April 16, 2012 at 9:42 pm #

    They are tedious to clean, but I agree with you that they provide a mindless occupation for focusing on other things at the same time. And you’re so right about getting them while they’re here. The season is too short.

    • Domenica April 17, 2012 at 5:39 pm #

      Linda ~ I prefer to think of it as “theraputic” rather than tedious, but then again I have never had to shell a mountain of them, as many restaurant cooks are probably doing at this very moment! That really would be tedious…Cheers & thank you for your comment, D

  2. AdriBarr April 16, 2012 at 10:01 pm #

    Hi Domenica,

    You had me from the get go. What a wonderful post. I laughed out loud when I reached the Garden of Neglect. And I hear you about the pleasure those repetitive tasks yield. I treasure the Spring hours spent at the kitchen table with my mother shelling beans and peas and talking about the family and life. We started with a huge bowl and finished with a small mound, but the work was worth it. The sweet flavor of the tender green vegetables remains with me to this day as does my mother’s wisdom. Thanks for a charmingly informative and entertaining post.

    • Domenica April 17, 2012 at 5:40 pm #

      And thank you, Adri, for a lovely comment. Sometimes life at a slow pace is a good thing.

  3. Marnely Rodriguez April 17, 2012 at 6:56 am #

    I’m not a HUGE fan of fava beans, but love the look of this puree! Will search for them and report back!

    • Domenica April 17, 2012 at 5:41 pm #

      Let me know what you find out, Marnely. I wonder, do they have them on the Vineyard? They must, yes?

  4. Jamie April 17, 2012 at 8:40 am #

    Ha ha ha you are so funny – I actually burst out laughing after that opening… and then again with visions of your Garden of Neglect. But no matter where your ingredients come from, the dish you create is always stunning and mouth-wateringly tempting! I love fava beans but I think I can only get them frozen. Sitting and shucking or peeling or whatever it is called beans is pretty common here and we do it every spring. I so love this purée but I love the idea best of that Vignarola! I so want to try that. In your new book? And after a delicious meal had at Co.Pane in NYC with Abby and Gail I want to use those ingredients with fresh ricotta to top a pizza….

    • Domenica April 17, 2012 at 5:43 pm #

      I never did get to Co.Pane ~ I guess that means I’ll have to make a return trip to the city soon. And yes, I am including a version of La Vignarola in the vegetable book. Stay tuned…

  5. Meeta April 17, 2012 at 8:51 am #

    Domenica don’t sweat it – my garden only contains herbs and I can never get anything else to grow in it. I adore fava beans and usually find them at our organic store or at the market. I remember peeling them with my grandmother in her Delhi house so it always brings back some awesome memories.

    • Domenica April 17, 2012 at 5:45 pm #

      Thank you, Meeta. I love hearing when a particular food brings back good memories. I’d love to know how she cooked them.

  6. Deborah Mele April 17, 2012 at 8:58 am #

    Domenica, I love fava beans no matter how they are prepared and I cook them often in the spring since their season is so short. One of my favorite ways to prepare them is exactly how you did in a simple puree. So tasty spread on grilled slices of bread!

    • Domenica April 17, 2012 at 5:49 pm #

      Deborah, I agree ~ there is something so appealing about that simple puree. And what a glorious color! Cheers and thank you for your comment.

  7. foodwanderings April 17, 2012 at 9:17 am #

    You got me there with the first paragraph, a great opening! 🙂 Love fava beans, got a handful the other day. Never attempted making a dip out of them but always was temped especially when illustrated so beautifully by you and others. Oddly enough growing up we had dry favas boiled in salted water like peanuts in their shells, as a snack, and loved it. Though a different taste and texture than fresh ones altogether.

    • Domenica April 17, 2012 at 5:52 pm #

      Shulie ~ thank you for your comment. Italians also use dried fava beans. One of my favorite snacks is the fried (or maybe roasted?) salted dried fava beans–Italians also do chickpeas this way and they are deliciously crunchy and salty. I also make a very thick, substantial soup, based on a Sicilian dish called Maccu’ that calls for cooking and pureeing dried favas. They are truly an ingredient of “la cucina povera” ~ poor man’s cuisine, cheap and nutritious. And good!

  8. ItalianNotes April 17, 2012 at 10:13 am #

    I’ve got some fave left over from my rather plain Italian garden, and now I have to go and make this purea. Thanks for the inspiration

    • Domenica April 17, 2012 at 5:54 pm #

      Thank you for reading, Mette. And a plain Italian garden sounds like heaven to me!

  9. Laney April 17, 2012 at 3:24 pm #

    My cousin asked me the other day whether she should rip out all the fava beans in her garden because even though she enjoyed eating them, they were a lot of work to peel and cook. But supposedly they provide a lot of nitrogen to the rest of the garden so she opted to leave them in. I’ll pass on your terrific fava ideas!

    • Domenica April 17, 2012 at 6:38 pm #

      Laney ~ don’t let her do it! Yes, fava beans are good for the garden, and they have iron, fiber, and vitamins A and C (can you tell I used to write about health and nutrition once upon a time?). Thanks for reading and for passing along the fava love.

  10. Elisa April 17, 2012 at 3:33 pm #

    My father had a picture of me when I was 3 years old with a red and white smock sitting under a fava bean plant, opening the pods (kids can figure out anything) and eating them right out the shells. My mother was worried that there were too hard for a child, but I loved them then and I love them now. I make a purea mixing it with an artichoke dip for bruschetta. Buonissime!
    I am waiting for your new book!

  11. Domenica April 17, 2012 at 6:41 pm #

    What a sweet memory, Elisa. I love the idea of a fava-artichoke puree. There is a reason those two vegetables are in season at the same time ~ they go so well together. Thanks for your comment.

  12. Judy@Savoring Today April 18, 2012 at 8:52 am #

    It didn’t take much to envision your garden of neglect with my fallow farm plot staring at me outside my office window–a clump of chives stands alone. LOL
    I’ve never had fava beans, but it is on my list of foods I want to experience. If it can take me away from laundry, I agree, the time is now. 🙂

    • Domenica April 18, 2012 at 12:15 pm #

      Let’s hear it for herbs that thrive in spite of us, Judy! Hope you give favas a try. They seem to be one of those “it” vegetables, like kale; newly discovered here, but well-known elsewhere around the globe, where they have been a staple for centuries (they are packed with nutrition). Thanks for reading!

  13. Joe April 18, 2012 at 1:04 pm #

    I’m not a big fan of the fava bean (like my Nonna was), but that puree looks great. May have to give them another chance!

    • Domenica April 18, 2012 at 8:54 pm #

      Joe ~ yes, give them another chance. The fresh ones really are lovely. Thanks for your comment.

  14. Cara April 24, 2012 at 11:48 pm #

    Fava beans, Pecorino cheese and a glass of chilled white wine from the hill towns outside of Rome! It’s one of the things we miss the most.

    • Domenica April 25, 2012 at 9:05 am #

      Cara, I know exactly what you mean. It’s funny how the simplest foods can be the most evocative…

  15. love2dine May 7, 2012 at 12:25 pm #

    i think i’m going to try making this one!

  16. Frank May 23, 2012 at 10:08 pm #

    La vignarola is my favorite. Brings me back to my Roman days, although fave e pecorino come in a close second…. I have to say, I’m too lazy to peel them. And I don’t mind the skin at all, if they’re young and tender enough.

  17. janie January 1, 2013 at 11:18 am #

    I can’t wait for your next book! I love favas and feel lucky that when in season my farmers’ market has a few vendors selling them for a great price.


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    […] Laundry is Forever, Fava Beans Are for Now – A fresh fava bean puree and a writer’s love for this seasonal bean – Domenica Cooks […]

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