Cooking Class: Fabulous favas

Full of color and flavor, these beans will soon be counted among your faves

Fabulous farvas (photo credit: Contra Costa Times/MCT)
Fabulous farvas
(photo credit: Contra Costa Times/MCT)
There is no finer harbinger of spring than the glorious emerald hues that fill farmers’ markets and gardens in the spring – the slender asparagus, the stately artichoke and especially the fabulous fava (ful in Hebrew).
Still, if you’re not already a member of the fava cognoscenti, you might not give those pods a second glance. Oversized, pillowy and disturbingly lumpy, they look like someone planted English peas somewhere near Chernobyl. And their cushioned contents are not much to look at, either.
But plunge those rubbery, lichen-green flat beans into boiling water for a minute or two and peel off the skins – yes, this is a double-shuck deal – and what emerges is a spring miracle: brilliantly green beans that beg to be popped into the mouth at once.
Whether you puree them for crostini, stir them into risotto or toss them into a vibrant spring vegetable ragout, favas are perfect.
The beans are delicious in a spring vegetable braise with artichokes, scallions and spring garlic. The grassy, earthy flavor of the young leaves makes for a delicious salad, especially when paired with rosy grapefruit slices and a sprinkling of chive blossoms, borage or other edible flowers. And the pods are edible, as long as you pick them when they’re still sweet and tiny (8 cm. or less). Wait till the pods fully mature and they’re like fibrous hammocks for the fava beans.
But even favaphiles admit that the prep work for those little beans is a labor of love (emphasis on the “labor” part).
FAVA BEAN PUREE WITH CRUNCHY CROUTONS Makes about 25 croutons ✔ 1 tray of ice cubes ✔ 11⁄2 kg. fava beans, shelled ✔ 1⁄4 cup extra virgin olive oil ✔ 1⁄2 tsp. coarse sea salt ✔ 2 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice Croutons: ✔ 2 cloves garlic, crushed ✔ 1 sourdough baguette, cut into 25 slices ✔ 2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil ✔ 1 Tbsp. crumbled feta, to garnish Bring a saucepan of water to a boil.
While the water is heating, fill a bowl with cold water and add ice cubes. Add the fava beans to the boiling water and cook 1 minute. Drain the beans and plunge them into the ice water. Let them sit until chilled, about 5 minutes. Drain the beans.
Pinch off one end of the skin covering each bean and slip out the bright green bean. Put the beans, 1⁄4 cup olive oil, salt and lemon juice in a food processor. Process until smooth.
For the croutons, preheat the oven to 180ºC. Rub the garlic on both sides of each bread slice. Put the slices in a bowl. Drizzle with 2 Tbsp. olive oil and toss. Arrange the slices on a baking sheet and toast in the oven, turning the slices several times, until golden brown, 15-20 minutes.
When the croutons are cool enough to handle, slather on the fava bean puree.Sprinkle each with a pinch of crumbled feta cheese before serving.
BRAISED SPRING VEGETABLES WITH GREEN GARLIC Serves 4 ✔ 1 kilo fava beans in the pod, shelled ✔ Juice of 1 lemon ✔ 4 large artichokes ✔ 1 head fennel with fronds ✔ 5 green garlic stems ✔ 5 green onions ✔ 1⁄4 cup olive oil ✔ 1⁄2 tsp. salt ✔ 1⁄2 kilo English peas in the pod, shelled ✔ 2 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil Bring a large pot of water to a boil.
Add favas and cook 2 minutes. Drain and rinse with cold water. Tear tough skin on top of each bean and pop bean out of skin. Set aside.
Fill a large bowl with water and add lemon juice. Working with 1 artichoke at a time, trim and discard stem end and 5 cm. (or more) of the prickly top. Pull off and discard all tough outer leaves until only tender, very light green and yellow leaves remain. Be aggressive; you want the entire trimmed artichoke to be edible.
Quarter artichoke lengthwise and scrape out the fuzzy choke. Put trimmed artichoke in the lemon water. Repeat with remaining artichokes.
Trim fennel of dark and medium green tops. Chop feathery fronds and reserve 2 Tbsp. of them. Halve head lengthwise and cut into 1⁄2-cm.-thick wedges.
Trim root ends from green garlic and green onions. Cut into 5-cm. pieces. (If green garlic has a small bulb on end, halve it lengthwise.) Heat the 1⁄4-cup olive oil in a large pot over mediumhigh heat. Add fennel wedges and drained artichokes.
Sprinkle with salt and stir until sizzling. Add green garlic, green onions and 1 cup water. Cover, reduce heat to medium and cook, stirring occasionally, until artichokes are tender, 20 minutes.
Add peas and fava beans; cover and cook 2 minutes. Stir in fennel fronds and remove from heat. Add salt to taste. Divide evenly among 4 shallow bowls and drizzle with the extra virgin olive oil.
WARM FAVA SHALLOT COUSCOUS Serves 4 ✔ 680 gr. fresh fava beans, in the pod ✔ 1 cup quick-cooking couscous ✔ 1⁄4 cup extra-virgin olive oil ✔ 1 large or 2 medium shallots, thinly sliced ✔ Kosher salt, black pepper ✔ 1⁄3 cup pitted Kalamata olives ✔ 1 lemon, zest removed in long strips, juice reserved ✔ 2 Tbsp. thinly sliced fresh mint leaves ✔ Feta cheese, crumbled (optional) ✔ Toasted pistachios (optional) Bring a large pot of water to a boil.
Shuck the fava beans, rinse and boil them for 2 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon and rinse again to cool.
In the same water, cook the couscous, boiling until al dente, about 5 minutes, skimming any scum that comes to the surface. Drain, rinse briefly to prevent clumping.
While the couscous cooks, pierce each fava bean and squeeze the dark, inner beans into a bowl. Discard the outer shells.
In a large skillet, warm the olive oil over medium-high heat, until almost simmering. Add the shallots, 1⁄4 tsp. salt and a grinding of black pepper. Saute until the shallots are golden brown and starting to crisp, 4-5 minutes, stirring frequently to prevent burning. Reduce heat to very low, add the favas and stir until warm and glossy, 3-5 minutes. Test one bean; it should be tender.
Add the couscous to the favas along with the olives and some of the lemon juice, to taste. Stir until hot. Adjust the salt and pepper. Garnish with the mint and lemon zest, and sprinkle with crumbled feta and toasted pistachios, if you’d like to make this side dish more entree-like.
FAVA GREENS, GRAPEFRUIT AND FLOWER SALAD Serves 4-6 ✔ 2 pink grapefruit ✔ 2 Tbsp. roasted walnut or olive oil ✔ 1 Tbsp. minced shallot ✔ 1⁄2 tsp. kosher salt ✔ 1⁄4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper ✔ 2 quarts loosely packed, tender, young fava greens and tender sprigs ✔ Edible flowers such as fava, borage, rosemary, oregano or chive petals Finely shred zest of half a grapefruit.
Cut off peel and membrane from both grapefruits. Cut fruit into thin rounds, saving juice.
Combine zest, juice, oil, shallot, salt and pepper in a bowl and stir to blend. Toss fava greens and sprigs with dressing.
Spoon greens onto plates and tuck grapefruit into salads. Scatter with flowers and serve.
Contra Costa Times/MCT