Ask the Forager: Fava bean favorites
April 17, 2018
Dear Alan: I was at the Grower's Market the other day and found fava beans. Can you give me some tips on how to use them?
Alan: Fava beans in the market are another sign that summer is getting closer. Their beautifully green soft pods, 5 to 7 inches long, each contain about a half dozen beans.
Fresh favas have a delicious flavor all their own, sort of a combination of peas and dried beans. In fact, they belong to a branch of the pea family.
The availability of fava beans can be uncertain; they may appear in markets anytime from mid to late spring. Look for pods that are firm and bright.
Young favas will have green skin; later in the season the skin can shade to greenish yellow. If you can, split one open. The soft inner lining of the pod should feel moist and the beans should be tightly enclosed in smooth skin. Avoid pods with wrinkly skin or blackened ends.
Fava beans are relatively trouble free when planted in the garden. They are often used as a cover crop to add nitrogen to the soil. You can allow some of the beans to mature for eating fresh.
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The earliest fava beans, from small, smooth pods, can simply be shelled and eaten raw. Snap off the stem of the pod and pull down on the string that goes along the side. Use your thumbs to break open the pod and strip out the beans.
These immature beans are delicious dipped in sea salt and olive oil and eaten as an appetizer with salty cured meats like salami and prosciutto, or shavings of salty dry cheeses such as pecorino or Parmesan.
As the season goes on and the beans get larger and more mature, the skin on the individual beans inside the pods becomes tough and acrid and has to be peeled off.
After shucking the beans, get a pot of boiling water and a bowl of ice water ready. Drop the beans in the boiling water and simmer for a minute or two to tenderize and loosen the skins. Fish them out and put them in the ice water to stop the cooking.
Drain when they are cool. Use your thumbnail to break open the skin and squeeze each bean between you thumb and forefinger to pop the bean out. They are then ready for further cooking.
Peeled beans can be simmered in a little olive oil and water, with garlic and rosemary for 5 minutes or until tender, and served with a squeeze of lemon juice, salt and pepper.
Or purée long-cooked fava beans and use as a spread on grilled bread. Add some stock and cream to puréed favas for a delicious soup that can be served warm or chilled.
Fava beans also make a flavorful and green addition to a vegetable risotto or pasta.
Fava Bean Ragout
3 to 4 pounds (in the pod) fava beans
1/3 cup olive oil, plus more for drizzling
1 or 2 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped fine
1 small sprig fresh rosemary, leaves finely chopped
Salt and pepper
Fresh lemon juice to taste
Shuck favas and discard the shells. Blanch the beans and remove the skins as described above.
Warm the 1/3 cup olive oil in a medium saucepan and add the beans, garlic, rosemary, salt and pepper. Add enough water to almost cover the beans.
Bring to a simmer, partially cover, and cook for 5 minutes or more, until beans are tender. Serve with a squeeze of lemon juice and more olive oil to drizzle if desired.
Serves 4 to 6.
Chef Alan Tangren spent 22 years as a chef in the kitchens of Chez Panisse in Berkeley, eight of those years spent as the Chez Panisse forager. He teaches cooking classes and directs monthly Chef's Tables at Tess' Kitchen Store, 115 Mill St. in Grass Valley. Learn more at http://www.tesskitchenstore.com. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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