Planted last November, I’ve had my eye on this fava crop for a while now. I’ve watched them grow and hold steady through a frigid winter, produce lovely blossoms in April which were stormed by grateful bees, and now these bold velvety beans.
Fava Beans are a lush mass in the corner of the garden, ebullient legumes come of age. Fuzzy skinned and hanging languidly from fruit laden plants, they’re perfect for popping out of their shells and just eating. Next week the more mature beans will be another story.
We sacrificed a bunch three weeks ago, chopped and dug them into tomato beds for their nitrogen. In fact, they’re often grown for that alone, the beans themselves lost in the shadow of their monumental organic fertilizing ability.
So we had ourselves a backyard Fava Gala last weekend. Our Italian aficionado friends Bob and Judy came over, we harvested and shelled favas together and then ate them three different ways. Later on, probably next week, mature favas will require a quick blanching and removal of each bean’s skin, achieved with a squeezing pinch. But these were tender and edible right out of the shell, the fava’s perfect delicate moment – no need to peel each bean. Just eat em’.
Favas with a little salt for starters, then pasta with a sauce of favas and proscuitto master-minded by our friend Bob who knows his Italian cuisine, followed by grilled halibut with, you guessed it, marinated favas. A lot of fava going on, which was the whole point. The rhubarb crisp for dessert? We put one bean in its middle to bring it into a fava frame of mind, but truly, rhubarb, while zingy and delicious as always, took a backseat.
Available now at farmers markets and in backyards, 3 – 4# of unshelled favas provide enough beans for exploration.
A simple start: Shelled favas in a bowl with salt and pepper, Pecorino Romano and Pecorino Tuscano cheeses and bread on the side. A sip of chilled white wine, gnarly apple tree branches overhead, a picnic table, late afternoon sunshine, our quasi-Italian moment.
Bob’s Fava Pasta: From In a Roman Kitchen: Timeless Recipes from the Eternal City, by Jo Bettoja:
3.5 pounds unshelled fava beans
6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Four or five sliced scallions, white part only
Quarter pound boiled ham, coarsely chopped (we used Prosciutto)
One large clove of garlic
2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint
Freshly ground black pepper
2/3 pound dried fettuccine
3 tablespoons freshly grated Pecorino Romano cheese
Shell the fava beans if they are fresh, rinse in cold water, and drain. If they are frozen, thaw and drain.
Heat the olive oil in a large skillet. Add the scallions and cook over low heat for about eight minutes, until they are meltingly soft. As they cook, salt them lightly and add a tablespoon of hot water occasionally to prevent browning. Stir every now and then.
Add the fava beans and 1/3 cup hot water to the scallions. Cover the pan and cook for another eight minutes over moderately low heat, stirring every now and then. Add the ham and cook three or minutes longer, until the beans are tender but firm.
Finely chop together the garlic and mint. Add to the skillet and simmer for another two or three minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Cook the fettuccine in a large pot of boiling salted water until it is al dente. Drain the pasta and add to the skillet with the hot fava beans; mix well. Sprinkle with the pecorino Romano cheese, toss again, and serve at once on a heated platter decorated with mint leaves. Pass extra pecorino Romano and a pepper mill at the table.
Note: if desired, pancetta can be used instead of the boiled ham. Chop it coarsely and cook with the onions over low heat until onions are soft and translucent and the pancetta is light brown. Cook the fava beans until they are tender but firm, then follow the rest of the recipe.
Marinated favas to serve with fish: Simmer 1 – 2 cups of favas in a little water for a couple of minutes or until just tender – mature favas will take longer to cook, 15 – 20 minutes give or take/ Remove from heat, drain beans, place in a bowl with 1 or 2 smashed cloves of garlic, and while hot sprinkle liberally with olive oil, salt & pepper and a squeeze of lemon juice/ Let it sit for a few minutes or for an hour before serving/ Spoon over pieces of grilled halibut or salmon/ Or, smash the marinated beans and spread on a piece of toasted bread.
By next week favas will have passed their youthful prime in our garden and begun their drying process, necessitating the blanching and peeling of each bean. You have to really want those favas – a bit of a process that’s worth it for the culinary reward and mindless meditation. Another story and we’ll go there too. Next week.
Fava Beans: A Little Spring on Your Plate, an NPR website article.