Wednesday, March 21st, 2012
Once upon time my absolute favorite green vegetable was asparagus. I still love it but I’ve now lost my heart to fava beans. When my mother was still alive I wanted to give her a taste of fresh fava beans but I couldn’t find them anywhere in Santa Fe, New Mexico where she lived. So perhaps I’m just fortunate to live in the San Franciso Bay area, one of the foodie capitals of the U.S. While fresh favas are available here much of the year they are really the best at this time of year when the beans are still relatively small. As the season progresses, the farmers tend to let them grow much larger (after all they get paid by the pound) but the quality suffers as a result. Fresh favas are definitely not a cucina prigra option. They take a fair amount of work and being as lazy as I am I’d certainly not bother with them if they weren’t so damn good.
The start of the process is the beans in the pods as shown. This is 3 pounds of beans. So now you need to shell them. Sometimes the pods are very cooperatively and open up like fresh peas as those shown but more often there’s a lot of working with your thumbnail or whatever to open a bit at a time to extract the beans. Sometime you come across some very small ones. I just put those aside and pop them into my mouth as a reward for shelling all of the beans. So at the end of shelling the beans there were one pound of beans.
But we’re not done yet. The beans can be eaten unpeeled. In fact in some parts of Italy it is something of a ritual to eat the small new favas with young pecorino cheese. I’ve done that and it’s a pleasing ritual but the taste is really better if they are peeled. To peel them, you dump them into a pot of boiling water for about a minute. Then drain them and let them cool enough to touch. At this point the skin often looks a bit puckered. You just use you thumbnail to nip of the end (not the end that attaches to the pod) and squeeze the other end. They inner bean just pops right out.
Just to give you an idea of what a change these nice little beans go through I prepared a pasta first course for 5 hungry people. I started with 3 pounds of unshelled favas. After shelling that was down to just about a pound and after the beans were peeled it yielded 9 ounces. I used 10 ounces of dried orecchiette pasta for this which seemed just the right amount. I sauted some green onion tops diced into those nice little rounds along with the white parts of a couple of the onions – I used two bunches of tops but just 2 0r 3 onion white parts. I then cut two slices of prosciutto into little pieces. I saute the onions briefly, add the prosciutto briefly and then add the favas and cook just long enough to heat them up. These then go over the cooked pasta with a fairly generous sprinkling of freshly grated parmigiano on top. It’s VERY tasty. Not cucina pigra but I think that it’s worth the effort.
Unfortunately I don’t have a picture of the finished dish – we were all too anxious to just eat it. So you’ll just have to find out for yourself. I know that they are also very good mushed up a bit and put on crostini or even perhaps bruschetta. I hope that you’ll give them a try if you get a chance.