Photo by Marialisa Calta
Fava beans pureed with olive oil offer a taste of spring.
Fava beans are all over fancy restaurant menus these days, but they’re hard to find in a grocery store. Many people don’t even know what they are, or what to do with them.
That’s a shame, because fava beans could be described as “spring in a pod.” In the way that a good oyster tastes like the ocean, a fresh fava tastes like a sweet spring day. Think of fresh peas, only better.
Fava (FAH-va) beans are primarily a Mediterranean crop, planted in the late summer and wintered over until they are harvested in early spring. Italians like to eat them raw, dipped in olive oil and salt and accompanied by prosciutto and pecorino cheese. They are also popular in Chinese, Indian, Middle Eastern, Mexican, South American and African cuisines.
In the United States, fava beans — under the English name of broad beans — were a staple in Colonial kitchens, according to food writer Nancy Harmon Jenkins. But somehow they fell out of favor. The last decade has seen a resurgence of favas in high-end and “farm-to-table” restaurants and in specialty markets.
The drawback to favas, aside from their looks (the pods are lumpy and can be slightly hairy and spotted black) is the time they take to prepare. First you have to shuck them. Then you have to blanch and cool them and remove their outer covering (see directions below). If the favas are very young and tender, you can skip this step, but it is rare to find them so small.
Favas are worth the effort, if only for the recipe here. It comes from Alan LePage, a farmer in Barre Town who grows favas and sells them at a local farmers market. His fava bean puree is a stellar way to begin a festive meal or to make a meal festive.
(Health note: A small number of people suffer from “favism,” a rare blood disorder, and should avoid the beans. Favism results from a deficiency of the G6PD enzyme and is therefore also known as G6PD deficiency. Check out g6pd.org.)
Fava bean tips
Buying: Look for pods that are green and firm; some brown and black spots are fine, but they should not have blackened, mushy ends.
Storing: Refrigerate, unshucked, in an open plastic bag.
Shucking: Bring a pot of water to a boil. Prepare a bowl of ice water and set it aside. Break open the pods along the seam and remove the beans. They will have an outer covering ranging in color from light green to grayish-green and yellow. Drop the beans into the boiling water, return to a boil and cook for one minute. Drain and immediately plunge them into the prepared ice bath to stop the cooking. Drain again. Use your thumb to break open the skin and squeeze the beans out. They are now ready for cooking.
Freezing: Place shucked and peeled beans in one layer on a cookie sheet and freeze for two to three hours. Transfer to an airtight container and freeze for up to three months. Thaw before using.
Fava bean math: 1 pound of favas in their pods yields about 1 cup shucked and peeled beans.
Fava Bean Puree
Yield: about 2 cups, or appetizers for 6 to 8
1 large head garlic
¾ to 1 cup good-quality extra-virgin olive oil, or to taste
2 pounds unshucked fava bean pods
1/3 to ½ cup water
Several pinches chopped fresh thyme or rosemary, to taste
Coarse salt, to taste
Sliced baguette for serving
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Cut a horizontal slice off the top of the garlic head, exposing the tops of the cloves, and roughly remove whatever papery skin easily comes off. Pour a teaspoon or so of olive oil into the exposed cloves and rub the outside of the garlic with oil. Wrap in foil and bake until tender, 45 minutes to an hour. When done, the garlic will be soft and slightly caramelized. Set aside.
Meanwhile, shuck and peel the beans as described above. You will have about 2 cups.
Warm ¼ cup oil in a skillet and add the fava beans. Sprinkle with herbs and salt. Saute over low heat for about 5 minutes, then add 1/3 cup water. Simmer, covered, on low heat for 15 to 20 minutes, or until very tender (this may take longer if beans are older and tougher). Add more water as you cook if the liquid evaporates.
Scrape into the bowl of a food processor. Add the roasted garlic by squeezing the garlic cloves into the fava beans. Pour in about ¼ cup of oil. Puree, adding more olive oil, until a soft, spreadable paste forms; it should be the consistency of whipped cream cheese. Add salt to taste. Serve at room temperature with baguette slices.
(Recipe from Alan LePage, Barre Town)
Marialisa Calta is a syndicated food writer who lives in Calais.
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