I have often wondered about fava, having eaten them a handful of times in restaurants, though never having experimented with them at home. But I had seen those long, leggy hulls, some reaching a full forearm’s length, scraggly arranged in baskets at farmers’ markets, and often thought to myself I should learn what taste and texture they hold. They are, after all, an Italian staple, and I am, if nothing else, a devotee of all things born of my Italian heritage.
When an enormous basket full of fava arrived at my door during our late spring holiday in Umbria, I saw both a cooking challenge and learning opportunity in front of me.
Our neighbor Tommaso, whose farm on the valley floor provides a serene foreground for the spectacular view of the ancient mountain town of Montefranco which looms majestically above us to the west, had sent the fava as a gift in “grado” (gratitude) for my invitation to a small festa we planned for the following Sunday. The fava overflowed the basket’s sides and formed a tall mound of bright green. They were heavy and they were many and they were sticking out in all directions.
I opened one of the long hulls and felt instinctually that in this freshly-picked-yesterday state the beans found inside should be treated more like a fresh pea than a dried bean. They were a little firmer and thicker in their outer coating so I decided to blanch them and see what happened as I went along.
The largest of the villa’s pasta pots was filled with water and brought to a boil. Next a generous handful of sea salt was added and then in went the beans. I tested at 2 minutes, at 5 minutes, at 6 minutes. At just near to 8 minutes I saw a little of their color start to fade so I swooped in with a strainer, retrieved the blanched beans and plunged them immediately into a bath of ice water. They were now a little paler green in color on their outside, but inside… a brilliant, bright green and just tender, not mushy in any way.
Note: These were first of the season fava and their outer coatings were very tender and far less thick than I encountered later in the season. I used them for the Crostini Spread recipe below and did not remove the outer coatings. But the rule of thumb for most fava is to remove that paler coating and use just the inner, brighter bean. Harvesting fava still later in the season, you'll note that the now very large beans will take on a potato-lentil texture and lose much of their brilliant green. These will make a great substitute for mashed potatoes on their own mixed with olive oil and sea salt and, are also a good choice for the fava soup recipe below.
The slightly tedious, yet somehow calming, effort to remove the paler outer shells of the blanched fava reveals their inner bright green gems. I poured them into a mixing bowl and drenched them (about 5 pounds worth of hulled beans) in a fantastically fruity "fruttato" cold pressed olive oil, seasoned them with an entire head of crushed garlic cloves, 12 in all, and added a good bit, maybe 2 tablespoons, of flaked sea salt. They were magnificent right then and there and could have made for a tasty snack, handfuls at a time, but my inner chef was championing the need to marinate them, at least for a few hours, to allow the salt and garlic as well as the thick, fruity oil to penetrate.
What follows are a few recipes I created “on the fly” as cooks like to say… pairing the simplest of ingredients with these incredible beans; God’s gift of a great harvest and the generosity of our new friend.
2 cups marinated Fava Beans (as prepared above)
¼ cup EVOO; unfiltered fruttato preferred
+ additional EVOO for brushing the crostini before toasting
French or Italian bread baguette, sliced on the bias
½ cup shredded Pecorino Romano cheese as garnish
Note: reserve one whole bean for each crostini as garnish
To make the fava spread, simply combine the marinated fava with the additional olive oil in a food processor. Blend into a smooth and spreadable consistency. If too thick, add a tablespoon of water (or use a squeeze of lemon for added brightness.) Taste for seasoning, adding salt and pepper to your taste but be careful not to over salt as the shredded Romano garnish will impart a good degree of saltiness; set aside in refrigerator until assembly.
Brush a little olive oil across each baguette slice and lightly toast… under the broiler or in a pan on top of the stove. Top each slice with a tablespoon of the fava spread and garnish with a single whole fava and a pinch of the shredded Romano cheese. Arrange the crostini on a platter for serving; serve immediately.
Note: This spread can easily be used as a substitute for hummus and served as a dip with batons of fresh carrots and celery, as well as broccoli or cauliflower florets or even fresh red and yellow bell pepper slices. I also do a smooth and creamy variation on this spread by adding a little mascarpone cheese to the processor and increasing the blending time. This version is amazing with either a dollop of truffle tartufatto (minced truffle in olive oil) on top or, a few strands of thinly sliced lemon peel and shavings of pecorino.
1 lb freshly hulled Fava Beans
1 small sweet Yellow Onion, peel removed and cut into quarters
3 small cloves of Garlic
2 cups Chicken Stock
½ cup Mascarpone Cheese
½ cup grated Pecorino Romano Cheese, plus additional as desired at service
4 large slices of French or Italian Bread, sliced on bias
50 grams Salsa Tartufatta (minced summer truffles, available at many fine grocers)
Good quality EVOO, Fruttato preferred
Sea Salt & Cracked Pepper to taste
Large pot of boiling water with 1 tbls Sea Salt for blanching
Add the fava, onion and 2 of the garlic cloves to the pot of salted boiling water. Blanch the beans for 15-20 minutes. Drain and allow the beans to cool.
In a food processor, combine the blanched beans, onion and garlic in batches, adding some of the chicken stock as you go (you may also use a blender.) Repeat until all of the beans and stock have been incorporated.
Pour the smooth bean puree along with the cheeses into a saucepan and warm over medium low heat. Test for salt and pepper to your taste.
Meanwhile, toast the baguette slices until golden brown on both sides and then scrape the remaining garlic clove across each slice. Top each toast slice with ¼ of the minced truffle (or simply forgo the truffle condiment and use shredded Pecorino Romano cheese.) Serve the toast along side the warmed soup and offer guests a fresh grating of the Pecorino Romano as well as a drizzle of good olive oil on top.