I am sorry Hannibal Lecter, there will be no liver with my fava beans this year. Perhaps a nice Chianti, but definitely no liver.
It’s fava bean season and like all spring vegetables, this Sicilian American chef is excited. I’m thinking fava beans with my risotto; fava beans and pasta; fava beans and pork and even fava beans with some fresh Gulf Coast corvina.
I’m even considering Vignarola, the famous Roman-style stew of spring vegetables including fava beans with spring peas and artichoke hearts.
Vicia fava, also known as the broad bean, field bean and bell bean, is a species of beans native to north Africa and south Asia, according to Wikipedia.
The fava bean flowers have a strong and sweet scent, which is very attractive to bees. The long leathery pod is green to blackish brown in color and have a long tradition of cultivation and old world agriculture, being among the most ancient plants dating back to 6000 B.C.
The fava is a very hardy bean that can withstand harsh and cold climate and can be grown in many harsh soils, even clay. The fava beans is eaten while still young and tender enabling harvesters to begin as early as the middle of spring.
Preparing favas involves first removing the beans from the pods, then parboiling the beans to loosen the exterior coating and removing that before cooking.
I’m going to be honest with you, it is not an easy vegetable to clean and prepare but the flavorful results are so worth the time and energy.
Many chefs love to fry the fava beans, causing the skin to split open and actually help naturally thicken many vegetable dishes.
Fava beans have much more history than most people know. In ancient Rome, fava beans were used in the voting. A white fava was used to cast a “yes” vote and the darker fava being a “no” vote.
In Italy, fava beans are traditionally eaten on Nov. 2, All Soul’s Day. Small cakes are prepared in the shape of the fava and are known as “fava dei Morti” or “beans of the dead.”
According to many traditions, Sicily experienced a failure of crops other than beans, and if it was not for the fava bean, the population would have starved. Prayers were given to St. Joseph and the fava have become a tradition on St. Joseph altars throughout the world. Many Sicilian Americans, such as myself, carry the fava bean in their pockets for good luck.
In Rome, on the first day of May, families traditionally eat fresh fava beans with Pecorino Romano cheese. Even the farmers in Italy traditionally feed the fava beans to their animals. In Genoa, fava beans are eaten raw or with a little salami and cheese.
As for myself, I really enjoy the fava simply prepared, with just a little extra virgin olive oil and Sicilian sea salt.
I remember visiting the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota with my father in his later years and the doctor recommending fava beans simply dressed with olive oil, sea salt and a little garlic as part of his diet.
After arriving back in Kansas City, my father and I convinced local produce purveyors to start carrying fava beans. This time of year, local farmers’ markets usually sell fava beans and I highly recommend you seek out this historical bean.
Fava beans are growing in popularity but they still have not become a staple in the kitchen. I’m not going to mislead you and tell you that fava beans are easy to prepare. They can be a chore to peel but the results are well worth the time.
May 1 is just a few days away and I highly recommend you celebrate the fava, as do many Italians around the world. Here is a simple recipe of fava beans and risotto that I am sure you will enjoy, perhaps even with a little Chianti. Viva la fava!Jasper Mirabile’s Fava Bean Risotto 1 leek 2 tablespoons salted butter 1/2 cup minced shallots 1 cup Arborio rice 1/2 cup Pinot Grigio wine 3 1/2 cups chicken stock 1/2 cup Pecorino Romano cheese (grated) Cracked black pepper to taste Sea salt to taste 1 cup shelled and cooked fava 1 tablespoon grated lemon peel Extra virgin olive oil
Clean and wash 1 leek. Slice thin. Melt the butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Saute the shallots until soft, about 2 to 3 minutes. Brown butter and add leeks. Stir in rice. Toast for 1 minute. Add the wine and bring to boil, stirring constantly. Continue to add broth. Reduce heat to medium and continue adding broth as needed. Stir slowly. This will take about 20 minutes.
Add fava beans. Season with salt and cracked pepper. Stir. When ready, the risotto will have a creamy sauce. Remove the pan from the heat and add grated lemon. Stir in remaining butter and add cheese. Serve at once with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil.
Chef Jasper J. Mirabile Jr. of Jasper’s commands the helm of his family’s 59-year-old restaurant, consistently rated one of Kansas City’s best Italian restaurants. In addition to running the restaurant with his brother, Mirabile is a culinary instructor, founding member of Slow Food Kansas City and a national board member of the American Institute of Wine and Food. He hosts many famous chefs on his weekly radio show Live! From Jasper’s Kitchen on KCMO 710 AM and 103.7 FM and sells a line of dressings and sauces.