I think that fava beans are one of those things that you need to prepare yourself in order to truly appreciate them. I’m sure that I came across them before I lived in France, perhaps randomly poking out of a spring ragoût or crushed and smeared on some olive oil-brushed toast. However, it wasn’t until that spring in Paris that I actually bought some of my own.
Fava beans appeared suddenly and seemed to overwhelm the markets overnight. They overflowed from round baskets made of thin slats of wood that were stapled together. To fill your flimsy paper bags, you had to first elbow your way through ruthless matrons who did not care if they knocked off your glasses as they pinched and squeezed each pod to see which had the biggest and juiciest beans.
They were ridiculously cheap, mere centimes for a kilo.
You needed kilos of them too. Given that one kilo equals roughly 2.2 pounds, 2.2 pounds of pods would yield slightly more than one cup of beans once shucked. That cup would be reduced again to a mere 2/3 of a cup after removing the waxy, unappetizing membranes from the beans.
Fava beans were so abundant and economical in France that I just assumed that they were as available and inexpensive everywhere else.
Priced somewhere between $2-3 per pound, fava beans in New York are not the budget treat they were in France. However, once I developed a taste for them, I began eagerly anticipating their springtime arrival. Given that a small 2/3 cup serving of fava beans tends to run me about $5-6, I tend to favor recipes that prepare them simply in order to let their earthy, nutty, slightly bitter flavor and buttery texture shine.
Fava beans are still available at the markets here in New York, but elsewhere the season may be ending or has already passed. If you can’t find them easily or find the price prohibitive, I imagine that shelled edamame makes a respectable substitute.
This is one of those recipes where I encourage you can feel your way through it and modify it to fit your tastes. I used Pecorino Romano, a sharp, tangy, and salty sheep’s milk cheese that traditionally partners up with fava beans in and around Rome. However, using grated Parmesan in place of the Pecorino Romano results in a very nice spread too. For a little more smoothness, you can add a soft dollop of good ricotta, or maybe even a spoonful of thick, creamy yogurt.
However you make it, this dip, spread, or whatever you want to call it, is a terrific thing to dunk vegetables in, particularly radishes. You can also slather it on crostini.
About 2 pounds of fava beans in their pods
1/3 of a cup of freshly grated Pecorino Romano
1/3 of a cup olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper
How to prepare:
1. First of all, you will need to remove the beans from their pods. This is easy to do and is much like shelling peas. Once shucked, discard the empty pods, and blanch the beans in boiling water for about 2 minutes — any longer than that, and they will be mushy. Have an ice bath ready to shock the beans after draining them. By submerging the beans in ice water after cooking, you will retain their beautiful green color. When the beans are cool, remove the waxy outer-covering of each one by nicking the end of a bean with your finger nail and easily squeezing each one out of its peel. Discard the peels.
2. Combine the beans with the grated cheese in a food processor. While the machine is running, add the olive oil in a steady stream until the consistency is nice, smooth, and thick. Transfer the spread to a bowl and season it freshly ground black pepper to taste. You shouldn’t need to add any salt because the cheese should be salty enough.
The spread should keep covered in the fridge for 3-4 days.
Unrelated query to Readers: Had a problem where this recently published post reverted back to a much earlier draft and “unpublished” itself. Spooky! Has this ever happened to anyone else?