Opening up packages is a tradition of every season.
In winter, there are Christmas presents ripped open and devoured. Summer has its Father’s Day tie box and bottle rockets bought in shady tents on the side of the highway. Autumn brings the sugar highs and lows after children open their Halloween candy.
But spring is different, as it brings gifts from the ground in a steady succession, some their own little packages just waiting to be opened. That’s where fava beans come in.
Fava beans, which go by aliases like broad beans, are those green prizes of early to mid-spring that usher in the prime time of the season’s produce. You’ll recognize them as those large, light green puffy pods at the market that look like a hybrid of a green bean and snap pea on steroids.
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When buying, look for exterior pods with a soft, velvety surface that open up to reveal around four to seven pale green, ovular shaped, flat beans.
Similar to fellow pod packaged vegetables like peas, the beans are attached at the top to the pod but are easily popped off. That is where the easy part ends, and the debate begins.
The individual fava beans have an outer shell, or skin, to them. Many recipes call for fava beans not only to be removed from their pod, but also for the bean to be peeled additionally, which can be done by briefly blanching, shocking in ice water and then peeling.
But is that really necessary? Many countries around the world feature the unpeeled fava in dishes, while often in America you will see recipes requiring the extra steps.
As with many things, I think the truth is somewhere in between. My rule is with younger fava beans in spring, peeling isn’t needed most times.
The older they get though, the thicker the peel becomes and can take away from the delicate flavor that makes favas so unique. So use your discretion or simply follow recipe directions.
There are several ways you cook fava beans, fresh or dried. The fresh variety can be found in spring and early summer, while the dried variety are available year round. Young spring favas can be blanched, sautéed, steamed or even raw.
One fun method to cook favas is oiling the whole pod and grilling for to get a nice char on the outside. This adds a smoky flavor while keeping the insides moist as they steam inside the pod.
Toss with some flaky sea salt and more olive oil, or a favorite seasoning and it’s a great but slightly messy group snack, like peanuts at a baseball game.
Some other ideas for using fresh fava beans:
• Sautéed with bacon, garlic, vegetables, tossed with pasta.
• Blanched and stirred in to finish a creamy vegetable risotto.
• Mashed or puréed with roasted garlic, lemon and olive oil.
• Lightly pan fried, tossed with almonds, olive oil and smoked paprika.
• Used raw with greens and vegetables in a spring salad.
• Stir fried with shrimp, garlic, ginger and finished with tamari and wine.
• Served as an appetizer with goat cheese and herbs on grilled bread.
• Grilled in the pod, tossed with olive oil and salt.Bacon, Fava Bean and Sunchoke Orechiette with Pickled Mustard Seed Sauce Makes 4 servings
Any smaller pastas like rigatoni, penne, fussili etc. could be substituted for the orechiette here. Other seasonal vegetables or greens like kale ordandelion
would go well with the rich flavors in the dish. Remember to leave the pasta slightly under al dente, as it will continue to cook as the dish is finished in the pan. Reserve one cup of the pasta cooking water, adding it to the pan as necessary to create a sauce.
1 pound orechiette pasta, fresh or dried
1/2 pound thick cut bacon, cut into lardons
2 cloves garlic, sliced thinly
2 pound fresh fava beans, removed from pod
2 medium to large sunchokes, shaved thin
2 cups Savoy or Napa cabbage, sliced thinly
4 tablespoons pickled mustard seeds, or 2 tablespoons whole grain mustard
1 teaspoon fresh rosemary
Grated Parmigiano Reggiano or Pecorino cheese, optional
Fresh ground black pepper to taste
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and cook the orechiette until slightly under al dente. In a large skillet, cook bacon lardons over medium low heat until crisp and fat has rendered.
Remove and reserve all but 3 tablespoons of bacon fat, then raise heat to medium high. Add garlic and fava beans, until both have browned a bit, 1-2 minutes, then add cooked orechiette and some pasta water to pan, along with the cabbage, raw sunchokes, bacon, rosemary and pickled mustard seed.
Toss through to bring ingredients together, adding pasta water if dish is too dry. Serve in bowls and finish with a grind of black pepper, a bit of olive oil and the grated cheese, if using.
Fresh Fava Beans – whole, with pods still attached, and picked from pod (from left to right)
Bacon, Fava Bean and Sunchoke Orechiette with Pickled Mustard Seed Sauce