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Fava Beans

They go with more than just Chianti

I get giddy when I see the first piles of long bright green pods that appear in the farmer's markets in the late spring. It still amazes me how a food I only discovered a few years ago can inspire such excitement in me. While I had seen Silence of the Lambs the famous line meant nothing to me until I first tasted favas tossed with olive oil, salt, pepper and chunks of pecorino, the taste was simple, slightly nutty, and vibrant green. The saltiness of the cheese was a perfect match for the mildly bitter beans. Since then whenever I encounter them on a menu I have to try the dish, everything from fettuccine with favetta (a puree of favas, olive oil and mint) to fava beans grilled whole in the pod served with chili oil.

When I bring them home to cook myself I suddenly don't know what to do with them and always seem to end up with favas and pecorino. It's easy and always tastes good, but I want something different. So I decided to go on a search for new recipes to try. Some were worth it, others not so much, but at least I have a lot more ideas rolling around when I bring a bunch home.

First let me warn you that if you've never cooked fava beans before, they are a bit labor intensive. I think it's worth it, but I'm a food geek. First you have to remove the beans from the pod, at this point they're still in a thick white casing. Blanch them while still in the casings and they're much easier to peel, but you can peel them at this point if you prefer. Blanch the beans by bringing a pot of water to boil, drop in the beans and boil for about two minutes. Drain the beans and let cool. Then you peel the outer casing off by breaking it with your fingernail and squeezing the bean out. Now you've got a bowl of bright green beans a quarter of the size of the bag you started with, for some disappointing for others it's a bowl of gems.

At this point you can use the beans in any recipe; they make a great substitute for lima beans, and can be thrown in soups and salads to add texture and color. The flavor is delicate, so be aware that they can easily be overwhelmed. Chopped fine and mixed into ricotta they make a great filling for ravioli with a simple wine or fresh tomato sauce. My favorite use however, that is after pairing with pecorino, is in a spring primavera. Asparagus, fava beans and leeks in a white wine sauce with fettuccine: it's pure spring. One of my new discoveries is a twist on succotash, traditionally made with lima beans, corn, and milk or cream. I made a lighter version with fresh corn, favas and instead of milk or cream added caramelized onions to add sweet richness to the dish. It's a great side for any picnic or barbeque and can be served warm or cold.

No matter how you cook them, enjoy the delicacy while you can, the season is only a few months long and outside of California the beans are quite hard to find, even dried.

Spring Primavera
Serves Two

1 tbsp butter
1 leek, julienned
6 stalks asparagus
cup fava beans, blanched and shelled
cup white wine
lb dried fettuccine
cup grated Romano cheese
Salt and pepper to taste

In a medium-sized skillet melt butter over medium-low heat. Add the leeks and cook slowly, periodically stirring until soft and translucent. In a separate saucepan bring 6 cups water to a boil. Slice the asparagus on the diagonal into 1-1 inch pieces; add to the leeks once melted. Sautee until just tender and then add the favas and wine. Simmer until sauce reduces and thickens slightly, about 10 minutes. Meanwhile add pasta to boiling water and cook according to directions, if using fresh pasta wait until the sauce is done cooking. Season the sauce with salt and pepper to taste and toss with drained pasta, finish with grated Romano.

Summer Succotash
Serves 2 as a side dish

1 tbsp butter
red onion, diced
1 small bulb spring garlic (one clove of standard garlic can be used instead, but add to the onions just before the corn and favas)
2 ears of raw corn cut from the cobb
1 cup fava beans, blanched and shelled
1 tsp fresh marjoram, finely chopped
Salt and pepper to taste

In a large skillet melt butter over medium-low heat. Add the onions and garlic (if using spring garlic) and cook slowly until onions are soft and translucent. Add the corn, favas and marjoram. Saute for two minutes, until corn is tender. Season to taste and serve warm or allow to cool.