Fava Beans

Posted on May 26, 2011

Finding fava beans in the market on Saturday filled me with such joy.  I love favas, but until last weekend they remained elusive to me – on expensive restaurant menus and on friends’ dinner tables but, alas, nowhere in my sphere.  And then – Eureka! – there they were in Whole Foods in Hingham on a day I was passing through, a big pile of snappy, substantial green pods.  Like green beans on steroids.  I piled fistfuls into a bag.

Fistfuls is the way to go.  If you gather the pods modestly you will find, once you shell these babies, that you stand to be disappointed with your yield.

Favas are great prepared simply, either blanched then sauteed with a little olive oil and garlic or blanched and pureed as a side for grilled meats.  You can also salt and roast the beans a bit to make a snacking “nut.”

My favorite way to eat favas, though, is tossed with pasta that has been sauced with either garlic-infused olive oil or basil pesto.  A few shavings of parmesan cheese on top, a couple of grinds of black pepper, and you have a flavorful, complexly starchy comfort meal without peer.

I won’t kid you: getting the beans recipe-ready takes some time, between shelling, blanching, peeling, and sauteeing, but the results are so worth your time and effort.  Plus the bright green says “spring” like few other vegetables do.  Enlist helpers if you like.  Or enjoy the shelling’s peaceful rhythm all by yourself on a day when peaceful rhythm is both possible and necessary.  I’m a big fan of slowing down to enjoy cooking and eating.

Here’s how to get favas recipe-ready.

First find pods that are firm and crisp and intact, and have spongy, white polar fleece-like interiors.  A blemish or two on the shells won’t matter but avoid damp, soggy beans that are open or moldy in patches.  Fill a large bowl with cold water and lots of ice and store this in the refrigerator for use in another couple of steps.

By hand, split the pods along the seam as you would with English peas and collect the beans in a colander.

The beans have an outer husk.  To soften this for removing, blanch the shelled beans in salted boiling water for 2 minutes.  Remove the bowl of ice water from the fridge.  Drain the beans as soon as the blanching time is up.  Immediately tip the drained beans into the ice water to shock them and stop the cooking process.

When the beans are completely chilled, drain them again.  Using your fingers, gently tear the outer husk and pop the green inner seed out.

The beans may split into their two halves as you remove them from the husk and this is fine.  Discard husks.

Your beans are ready to be cooked a bit more and then used in any recipe you choose.  For my pasta dish, I sauteed the beans in olive oil for another minute or two, until just softened but not mushy.  These were then tossed into campanelle sauced with basil pesto.

So delicious.