Although we’d tasted many wondrous dishes in restaurant-going lives, there is only one that we felt compelled to order three times during the same meal, eating it as appetizer, main course, dessert. Fresh fava beans, dressed with extra-virgin olive oil and a fine dice of young Pecorino cheese, were offered as a “special appetizer” one warm spring night at a Tuscan-style restaurant in New York City. We knew that such a dish is a rarity on restaurant menus because fava beans are work to prepare in quantity; they require both shucking and peeling.”We’ll start with the favas” we said, “and then figure out the rest.”
We were stunned by that first simple dish of beans with their buttery, slightly bitter, “green” pea-like taste. So we ordered it for the next course, and then the next, without restraint or care for propriety. THAT was the dinner we needed. (When we returned the following evening hungering for more, we were told by our waiter that the favas were no longer available: “They were a losing proposition; the staff kept eating them…”)
This is the season for favas and it’s worth the effort to mine yourself and your loved ones a plateful. A fine solution to their laborious-in-quantity prep is to enlist friends to shuck and peel them during the “cocktail hour” before a meal, an old-fashioned and curiously satisfying communal activity. Once peeled, favas need only the barest embellishment: flavorful extra-virgin olive oil and shavings of a youngish sheep’s milk cheese, like Pecorino, or Manchego, or Sally Jackson’s made in Washington state, OR Parmigiano Reggiano, the ultimate cow’s milk cheese that goes with EVERYTHNG.
Shucked and boiled-until-just-tender English peas, soy beans, and chick peas all revel in this treatment. (Frozen shelled soybean, cooked until tender and drained makes a curiously pleasing every-day version).
If you’re a complete lazy dog, Mariquita Farm‘s website quotes chef Bruce Hill’s (of Bix in San Francisco) method of grilling fava beans in their pods…”The heat of the coals will pop the pods open and split the hulls that wrap each bean. Remove the beans with your fingers and they’re ready.” (We’d try rubbing the pods lightly with oil before throwing them on the grill, then grill, turning, until charred in spots and opened…Serve them with lemon wedges and still maybe shavings of Pecorino…Or maybe GRILL the pecorino, too…)
Here’s some solid info about buying fresh favas, and a possible allergic reaction to be aware of.
Recipe: Fresh Fava Beans (or Soy Beans or Peas) with Pecorino or Parmigiano
3 pounds fresh fava beans
1 garlic clove, halved (optional)
Really good extra virgin olive oil
Freshly ground pepper to taste
2 or 3 ounces youngish sheep’s milk cheese like Pecorino or Manchego, OR Parmigiano-Reggiano
To prepare the fava beans: Use your thumb to break open the spongy pods along the seam and dislodge the beans inside. The beans have a thin membrane that can easily removed if you first loosen the skins by blanching them. Cook the beans in rapidly boiling water for 1 to 1 1/2 minutes depending on the size. Drain the beans and plunge them into ice cold water to stop the cooking. Use your thumbnail to break open the skin at one end and peel it back. Press the bean gently and the bean will pop right out. Discard the skins. Collect the beans in a bowl, cover and refrigerate until ready to use. (You should have about 2 cups beans).
Just before serving, set out four shallow soup bowls (if you like, you can rub the bowls first with a cut clove of garlic to give the barest perfume to the favas). Arrange about 1/2 cup of the beans in each bowl. Sprinkle lightly with salt and drizzle with olive oil and a few drops of lemon juice. Shave the cheese over each with a vegetable peeler or mandoline and grind over some pepper (if the cheese is young and soft, you can cut it into small fava-size dice. Eat with large soup spoons.