I’ve always thought of fava beans as an exciting ingredient. I know it may seem odd to get excited about a bean, but this particular bean was something that, for years I read about in many an Italian recipe but, for the life of me, could never find at the market. I built those recipes up in my head as great mysteries that I must, must solve! For a while, they seemed completely unreachable. One triumphant day, I was browsing through a local gourmet market, V. Richards, and I saw them, encircled by a glowing, golden halo. I thought, “Could it be!?! After all of this time!?! After all of the dreaming, all of the hoping!?!” Yes, my friends, yes.
The thing about fava beans is, they are a pain in the butt to prepare. I say this, in hopes that you will still go out and get some but I don’t want to mislead you. You will spend, depending on how many people you are feeding, a good 15 minutes shelling, parboiling, then shelling again the neon green beans. There’s something nostalgic about this process to me that makes the work worth it. When I first snap open the flesh of the fava beans, I swear it sends me right back in time to my grandmothers front porch, shucking peas, snapping beans and listening to the chirp of crickets. It’s the smell, and the process that remind me of those heaps of beans.
To begin, remove the fava beans from the pods. I do this by snapping the end off and running my fingers along the seam, then plucking the beans out. Prepare a bowl of ice water. Throw the shelled beans into boiling water for a minute, then remove to the ice water. The remainder of the shelling process is explained below:
- (Top Left) Take your fingernail and make a tiny slit in the white skin at one end of the bean.
- (Bottom Left) Squeeze the end opposite the slit. The bean should squeeze right out!
- (Top Right) Fava and peel.
You can enjoy your meticulously shelled favas in a multitude of different recipes. They are great in soups or stews accented by other spring vegetables–greens, artichokes, asparagus, spring onion, etc. I chose to toss them with pasta and top them with crunchy, garlicky, breadcrumbs. Yum, yum!
Pasta with Fava Beans and Garlic Breadcrumbs
I call for brown rice pasta here because that’s what we like to use. You can use any kind of pasta that you want–long, eggy strands of pappardelle would be delicious. Feel free to play around with add-ins. Roasted peppers, artichokes, and asparagus would be great here!
2 Tablespoons + 2 Tablespoons of olive oil
1 1/2 pounds unshelled fava beans (or 1/2 pound shelled)
1 pint of cherry tomatoes, quartered
4 cloves of garlic, 3 of them sliced and 1 of them minced
1 spring onion (white and light green parts), thinly sliced
1/4 cup Calamata olives, pitted and roughly chopped
pinch red pepper flakes
1/2 cup vegetable or chicken stock
1/2 cup dry white wine
10 ounces brown rice pasta, cooked according to package directions
a small handful of basil, chopped
1/3 cup fresh breadcrumbs
Shell the fava beans (see process above) and reserve. I usually just throw the pasta into the same pan that I’ve just blanched the favas in.
Heat 2 Tablespoons of olive oil in a skillet. Add the clove of minced garlic, half of the basil, the pinch of red pepper flakes and the breadcrumbs. Cook over medium heat, stirring often until golden. Set aside.
In the same skillet, heat the remaining 2 Tablespoons of olive oil on medium heat, add the sliced onion, garlic, and a pinch of salt and cook for 2 minutes, or until the garlic just begins to color. Add wine and vegetable stock, stirring to loosen any brown bits on the bottom of the skillet. Simmer for 3 minutes. Add the fava beans, tomatoes, olives, rice pasta, and remaining basil and cook, stirring for 30 seconds until the pasta soaks up some of the liquid and the vegetables are evenly distributed.
Serve in bowls, topped with the toasted breadcrumb mixture. I sometimes like to finish with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil.