I think spring has to be my favorite season for vegetables. I adore peas – especially sugar snap peas. Asparagus makes me so happy I can hardly sit still. But I think my absolute favorite is the fava bean.
Back in 1991 when I saw Silence of the Lambs, I was merely a freshman in college, and I had never heard of fava beans or Chianti, let alone tried them. The first time I had favas was just over a decade ago when I was still living in the community house in Berkeley. One of the house mates loved favas and wanted to make them for dinner one night. I was game to help him as I always loved learning new things in the kitchen. When he showed me the big pods, I thought, “Man, these must be huge beans.” Then he showed me that we had to first take them out of their pillowy pods, boil them to get the outer skins to release, peel them and finally you had a bean you could eat. It was a lot of work, but when he made his simple dish of favas seasoned with sumac, tossed with basmati rice and a little olive oil, I had to admit they were pretty awesome. However, I hadn’t thought much about favas until a couple of years ago when I committed to eating seasonally: buying produce directly from a farm and supplementing that with weekly trips to the farmers market. When favas showed up at the market and in my CSA box, I found a whole world of fun in those beans.
I know some of you might think that favas take too much work to be worth it, but truly it’s not that much work at all. I find the time I spend getting the beans out of their pods is quite meditative and downright fun. The other morning I shelled 4 1/2 pounds in under 20 minutes. I have this method down where I rip the pod and then squeeze the beans out. Sometimes they get a little excited and over shoot the bowl. That just makes me laugh. It reminds me of when I was in high school and we would snap bottle caps to see who could get theirs to fly the farthest. I think if there were a flying fava bean contest, I might just win.
Once shelled, blanched and peeled, fava beans are so vibrant green and just downright cute, I can’t help but enjoy myself. Prepping favas brings out the kid in me. I am playing with my food, and I revel in it.
I did something very adventurous last week: I ordered a 5 pound bag of fava beans from Mariquita Farm. I live alone and I bought 5 pounds of favas. Yes, I am a nut. I challenged myself to find new and inventive ways to use them and I had a blast doing it.
The first day I did a simple salad with the favas (spring onions, lemon juice, olive oil) tossed with strips of beef tongue pastrami. I think that might be my new favorite salad. I repeated that salad later in the week and loved it even more the second time around.
One day, I braised a lamb shoulder roast with some Moroccan mint tea, celery, onion and chicken stock. Then I served it atop a carrot puree seasoned with Ras al Hanout. I topped the lamb with favas tossed with olive oil and salt. Simple yet elegant, and oh so flavorful.
On another day I had a friend coming over for lunch after yoga and I wanted to keep it light. I did a simple frittata with shiitake, asparagus, and Grana Padano. Then I made a fava mash with olive oil, salt and more Grana Padano. I finished the dish with a little burrata and fleur de sel. It was bright, light, yet completely satiating. And the best part was that I had leftovers for lunch the next day that I served with crostini.
With the last of the favas I had remaining, I made a lovely fava and asparagus dip that I served with some homemade crackers.
Fava Bean & Asparagus Dip
Heat oven to 350° F and put a pot of water on to boil.
Break off woody end of asparagus and place spears on a baking sheet with a drizzle of olive oil. Bake for 10 minutes. When cool enough to handle, chop asparagus and put into food processor.
Shell fava beans, the put in boiling water for 2 minutes. Shock in ice bath for 3 minutes and then peel fava beans. Add favas and onions to asparagus and puree in food processor until you have a thick paste.
With food processor running, add 1/4 cup olive oil and 1 tablespoon of heavy cream. If the paste is still too thick, add the additional cream and additional olive oil until you have consistency of thick dip. Salt and pepper to taste and serve with Laura Calder’s Salt and Savory Biscuits or other cracker.
I haven’t even begun to explore the tip of the iceberg of all that you can do with fava beans. I adore how Locanda fries the young bean pods whole and serves them with shredded pecorino. I couldn’t stop eating them the other night at an event. DELISH! And I haven’t even told you about fava greens! There are so many wonderful things to do with the leaves of the fava plant but that is an entire post of its own . . .