Thursday, July 8, 2010


After the happy, smoky meat-fest with friends that was our 4th of July weekend and the heavy, unshakable heat that's settled over the city, our CSA delivery arrived like a stroll in a cool forest. And with it, fava beans–just about the heartiest thing I can manage to eat right now, with temperatures locked in the 100's. It's not even the beginning of their season around here–they've been around in the markets–but I've held out this long for the local ones. Around April, some restaurants usher in a false fava season for winter-jaded diners, but I refuse to be seduced.

The mention of fava beans would have, a few years back, caused me to squirm in discomfort, and not just because of the creepy Hannibal Lecter association. In the restaurant where I used to work I hovered pretty low on the kitchen totem pole, so guess who got to peel all those infant favas for the spring salad? I also worked my fingers to the bone on the mandoline–quite literally–shaving the rest of the Lilliputian vegetables for that salad, which was so gorgeous and tender it would make you weep. Band-aids were my accessory of choice that spring, and I never could complete the task quickly enough. Hyperdrive is simply a gear I wasn't born with. Now, with no one watching over me, I don’t mind at all working through a pile of favas in the quiet hum of my own kitchen, the steady monotony a meditation. If my daughters are home, they fight to help out, since they're still too young to think it a chore.
Unpleasant associations behind me, I revel in the arrival of favas, their fur-lined green leather jackets hiding velvety, kidney-shaped beans which, in turn, have to be blanched and peeled to rid them of their rubbery hides. Do you really have to peel them twice? Some folks would say don't bother. Truly, you can get away with skipping this step if the beans are tiny and new (and you can also eat them raw at this stage, as the Italians do), but I wouldn't dare, because at one time I would have gotten fired for such negligence, and because I really do think those skins are a bitter distraction.
Since we usually receive only about a pound at pick-up, I have to make them count. I could throw them in a pasta, but I'm forever doing that with the more profuse vegetables we have trouble using up. Like zucchini. I prefer to let those favas shine after all the slaving I do over them, so I have this simple puree I make, with mint and pecorino and lemon. It tastes so, so good on crostini, or as a sort of alternate-universe hummus in a vegetarian sandwich. I also like dipping spicy-sweet little breakfast radishes into it. The assembly of the recipe is easy once you get through the shelling, and in this heat the blend of clear, bright flavors revives a wilted appetite like nothing else can.

Mashed fava beans with mint and pecorino

  • 1 lb. (approx.) fava beans in their pods (yields about a cup, shelled)
  • zest of 1/2 lemon
  • 1 heaping tablespoon lemon juice
  • 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 cup finely grated pecorino cheese (or, try ricotta salata) 
  • 1 heaping teaspoon finely minced mint leaves (more, if you like)
  • salt and pepper to taste

Shell the favas by snapping off ends of pods, pulling out strings, and opening seams. Discard pods. Bring a large pot of salted water to boil, and have a bowl of ice water ready. Boil the beans for a couple of minutes, depending on their size. You want them to be soft but not mushy, and still bright green. If you have larger favas that are beginning to turn yellow, you may need more like 3 minutes–but test as you go. Once done, remove favas with a slotted spoon and plunge into ice water. Drain when chilled, and remove skins by slitting them with a fingernail and squeezing beans out. 

To mash, you can use a food processor, potato masher, coarse food mill, or even a fork. I use the potato masher and like a somewhat coarse texture. Simply mash together everything but the mint leaves, taste for seasoning, add anything else you think it needs, then stir in the mint and serve.

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