September 29, 2010


my fava plants

Every year, I choose an experimental vegetable or two for the garden. This year, I chose fava beans, cantaloupe and watermelon. In our climate, the latter two are definitely in
the 'unlikely to work' category but after last year's crazy hot summer, I thought I'd risk it. Naturally, this summer was colder and wetter than in many years, so we can move the melons to the 'complete bust' category. The cantaloupes look like tiny, fuzzy
testicles a
nd the watermelons are ... pretty leaves. But, happily, the favas were a great success!

big bowl of beans

I'd always thought of favas as long-season vegetables (true) that needed a lot of heat and dry weather (false). I saw on the seed packet that they do well in coastal climates so I gave them a try. They grew less like beans than like small trees. I could see where the Jack and the Beanstalk story might have come from! The flowers were beautiful - black and white and fragrant - out of which the bean pods slowly emerged. I usually think of fava beans as a spring food, served as a salad with pecorino cheese, mint or parsley and olive oil and salt to dress them. But, here I am in late September harvesting huge pods. I got to work shelling them. The pods are pithy and soft i
nside - the beans grow in a downy bed. The size of beans can vary in each pod.

cozy beans

Favas are fairly labor-intensive to prepare. The process is: shell the beans from the pods, blanch in boiling water for 3-5 minutes, when cool enough to handle, slip the
outer skins from the beans and then proceed with recipe. It's a lot, but I enjoy the process - I just kind of use it as a meditative time. It'd definitely be more fun to do with friends around the table, though. I ended up with about five cups of fava beans from 18 plants.

Many cultures use fava beans in their cuisine. Referred to as broad beans in the UK and other countries, the beans are used in a variety of dishes. Mexico and South American countries eat them fried, as a snack. A typical dish of Puglia is fava bean puree with chicory; the salad with pecorino cheese I mentioned is popular in northern Italy, Umbria has a dish called scafata using favas and chard - Italy has many recipes using fava beans and there are interesting folklore stories surrounding this legume. In Greece, they are eaten in salads and boiled in stews. The middle eastern countries use the dried beans in falafel and also eat it in various purees. In the spirit of the ending of summer, I made this for dinner tonight, in an Italian fashion. Now I want more favas to cook with!
~ ~ ~ ~ ~

(Insalata fave alla fine dell'estate)

1/4 lb. guanciale, chopped fine (or use pancetta)
4 T. olive oil
3 small zucchini, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
4 green onions, white part only, sliced
1 large clove garlic, minced
2 T. fresh lemon juice
4 c. shelled, blanched and peeled fava beans
2 T. finely chopped Italian parsley
Freshly ground pepper
pinch salt
1/4 t. red chile flakes

Heat olive oil in large skillet and add guanciale. Cook over medium high heat until crispy. Add zucchini, green onions and garlic and saute, stirring, for about 5 minutes. Squeeze lemon juice onto vegetables, add fava beans and continue sauteeing for 2 minutes more. Remove from heat, stir in parsley, pepper and salt to taste. Pour into serving bowl and sprinkle with red chile flakes. Serve warm or cold.

Serves 6 as a side dish

1 comment:

Rowena... said...

Same for us with the watermelons. They grew to about 6 inches (still a seedling in my opinion) and just never went anywhere after that. Favas do very well for us, and I love how they enhance the soil with nitrogen-fixing capabilities!


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