That was about as much as I knew about favas for many years- a famous line from Silence of the Lambs. I'm willing to wager that's as close as most people in this country have come to fava beans.
Now come with me to a little movie called Sound of Music. Remember the sorta cold, older sister, Liesl? The pretty one. The sweet 16 in love with the soon to be Nazi? Well certainly you remember the dancing around the garden scene. There they are dancing around the garden, young and in love, flirting away, unbeknownst to The Captain. The sky opens up like it does only in the movies, and they quickly become soaked. Away they flit, they flit, they fly away into the perfectly placed gazebo, where they continue their dancing and singing foreplay-the only way to portray lust and sexual tension in a PG movie. And just when you find yourself feeling you could get up and do those steps as if they were your own, Rolfe plants a big wet one on Liesl. The music stops, there's a climactic pause and its at this moment that Lisel lets out the famous "Whee...". You must know the "whee..." It's so charming, so perfect, so silly, so WWII. If you are still with me (and I do thank you for your patience) you are wondering, "why the heck is she talking about fava beans and The Sound of Music". Well, that "whee..." was my reaction when I arrived at my local Farmers Market on Saturday morning and saw a big bowl of bright, green fava beans at one of my favoute vendors. I was "wheeing" all the way around the market (the wholesome, joyful Whee, not the other kind). And it wasn't because of Hannibal Lector and his nice choice of wine pairing.
I get excited about most beautiful, lovingly grown, fresh fruits and vegetables, but some are just closer to my heart than others. Like fava beans. Their season is so small, they are expensive, require a lot of preparation and are in short supply here in Vancouver. And I love them! The only problem is that I can't get nearly enough of them to make me happy. Next year I'm hoping to employ a couple of gardeners to help me get my fix. Just wondering how many batch's of ice cream will get me fava beans for a couple weeks?
Fava beans, also known as Broad beans for you Brits out there, Fèves to the French and Fave in Italian, are a popular part of Mediterranean diet and are plentiful in places like Provence and Italy. I try hard not to think of the huge bag of fèves I purchased in Paris 2 years ago. They were so cheap I nearly cried right there. They are a shelling bean and very tender new ones can actually be eaten raw, although I think that works mostly if you are picking them yourself. Otherwise they are cooked briefly and eaten as is or in salads, purees, and soups. Combined with corn they become Succotash.
If you've never had a fresh fava bean before please seek a couple handfuls out and give them a try. If you were introduced to them in dry form or are thinking about those grey lima beans in Campbells vegetable soup, think again. Hard. Think more of a nutty pea, yet buttery, full flavoured and tasting of spring, even though for some of us in the world we don't get them in the spring but rather in early summer.
Fava beans require a lot of trimming compared to other vegetables. Their pods look like really large beans with a tough skin. Once pulled open they have a moist fury interior holding snugly kidney shaped beans. Once shelled these beans must be blanched in order to facilitate peeling. Using your thumbnail you can easily pierce the the outer skin and gently squeeze the inner bean out. You are left with glossy, greenest flat beans. That glorious bright green will entice you. They only need about 5 minutes of cooking after that depending on their size.
beans really must be treated with extreme restraint. Their flavour is so delicate that its easy to cover them up. I've tried to
"dress" them up before and they are never as good as they are simply.
Their flavour partners include Pecorino cheese, olive oil, mint,
savory, and new garlic. Simply cooked with any of these ingredients and they are a lovely side dish adding so much colour to dinner.
I really can't say enough about these legumes. So I'll
leave you with this simple salad and a whole hearted, wholesome, "Whee..!"
Fava Bean salad with Mint and Pecorino
2 cups blanched and shelled fava beans, about
3 Tbsp olive oil
1 garlic clove, chopped fine
half lemon, zested
salt and pepper
3 Tbsp scallions, chopped
1 Tbsp white wine vinegar
1/4 cup fresh mint, chopped
1/4 cup pecorino romano cheese shavings (parmesan can be substituted)
Prepare the fava beans: Shell the beans from their pod. Drop them into boiling salted water for 30 sec if they are the size of your thumbnail and 1 minute if the size of a quarter elongated. Plunge into ice water to cool. Then pop them out of their pods using the thumbnail to pierce the skin.
Place them in a small shallow skillet, cover with enough water to almost cover them and olive oil, some salt. Bring to a simmer. Add garlic and lemon zest and simmer for 5 minutes, stirring once in awhile. Taste them for tenderness. They should still have some bite but not be hard in the centre and still retain a very bright green. When cooked add scallions.
Drain them, reserving the cooking broth, and place in a shallow bowl. Toss them about to cool them quickly. After about 5 minutes add vinegar and then mint and taste. Add more salt and pepper if necessary. Add a few tablespoons of the cooking broth to them, then top with shavings of Perorino cheese. Enjoy at room temp.