Sunday, May 22, 2016

Do Me A Fava…

Their color couldn't scream spring any louder. And with a delicate, earthy flavor and creamy texture, these little beans are like little nuggets of gold. Add in the labor of peeling them from their skins, and they're elevated to the level of food fit for the gods. I like them boiled whole in salted water, popped from their pods and tossed with good olive oil, a sprinkling of mint and a whisper of garlic and salt. Contributor Jim Dixon of Real Good Food likes them whizzed into a spread for bruschetta.

While favas have been cultivated for at least 8,000 years, nobody's figured out an easy way to get them out of their skins. Of course, for most of those millenia, people left the skins on the beans, and my friend Nancy Harmon Jenkins makes a good case for doing just that. [Her very funny post is well worth the read. - KAB] But other cooks I like argue convincingly that the time and labor spent is worth it.

Whether to skin your favas depends on how you plan to eat them. American farmers tend to let them get too big, but if you grow your own or can find small favas (pods thinner than your finger, with beans about a half inch long), spend a sunny afternoon acting like a Roman. Shuck the beans and eat them raw with a some good pecorino (sheep's milk cheese) and a crisp white Vermentino. Or make the classic Spring vegetable stew called vignarola. Traditional versions leave the beans unpeeled, but others [like this one from Chef Cathy Whims of Nostrana] call for naked favas.

Bruschetta with Favas & Arugula

Making a spread with favas is one of my favorite ways to get more out of the time spent dealing with them. Sometimes it's just a few ingredients, like this one with mint and garlic. But if I need to feed more than a few people, I'll add a few more things.

Start with pound of favas in their pods. Split open the pods, remove the beans and drop them into a pot of well-salted boiling water. Cook for about a minute, drain, and run some cold water over them until they're cool enough to handle. Use a fingernail to nick the skins and squeeze out the bright green bean. You'll end up with about a cup of shelled beans.

Combine them in your food processor with a cup or so of fromage blanc (or other soft goat cheese), a few tablespoons of pecorino Romano, a couple of cloves of chopped garlic, about 2 cups of arugula, a half cup of fresh mint, a couple of pinches of salt, a splash of Katz Viongier Honey vinegar and 3-4 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil. Process until you have a coarse puree, taste and add salt, vinegar or oil as necessary. Toast or grill some good bread, drizzle with a little olive oil and top with the fava spread.

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