By Roberta Bailey
Over the last few years, I have been discovering shell beans. Their diverse flavors and uses are well worth the time that I once considered to be the reason that I didn’t grow them. This year I have discovered fava or broad beans.
I tried growing them once, about 15 years ago, but I planted them late and they got decimated by black aphids. I have since learned that they are a Mediterranean bean, grown there as a winter crop. If planted here as soon as the soil has thawed, the young shelled beans are a delicious spring treat, a meaty textured blend of the flavors of a lima bean and a shell pea, ripening in the long gap between asparagus and peas. Their ripening time adds much to my enthusiasm over them. I sit and shell them, thinking about canned tomatoes, some asparagus, maybe the last of the leeks from the root cellar, a little fresh spinach, and before I know it, they’re looking up at me from a plate of pasta smothered in vegetables.
When I asked Mollie Thorkildsen, an avid gardener in Industry, Maine, with an appreciation for favas if she had any recipes to share with me, she passed on this advice. Fava beans are best used as a fresh shell bean. They are delicious steamed, or sautéed with garlic. Being a Mediterranean food, they blend well with most foods from that region, especially tomato-based dishes. Any dish calling for lima beans can be made with favas. Some people eat the immature pods in a stir-fry. Shelled fava beans can be frozen using the same method as for freezing shelled peas. Dried, mature fava beans can be prepared as any dry bean, but they are much better as a shell bean. I have since read that in the Middle East, dried favas are cooked, mashed into a paste that is laced with garlic and lemon juice, and eaten with pita bread.
Here are a few of the recipes that I am hoping to try this spring.
Favas with Tiny Pasta
3 carrots, thinly sliced
2 cups shelled fresh fava beans
1 cup acini di pepe or other small pasta
1/4 c. snipped chives
3 T. red wine vinegar
2 T. olive oil
1 clove garlic, minced
1 T. fresh basil, minced, or 1 t. dried
1/2 t. dry mustard
Cook the pasta until done but still firm. Steam the carrots and favas. Rinse pasta and vegetables until cool. Mix together in a large bowl with the pasta and chives. In a cup, whisk together the vinegar, oil, basil, garlic and mustard. Pour over the salad. Toss well to combine. Marinate for at least 2 hours before serving. Serve at room temperature.
(Serve over steamed, shelled, fresh fava beans; can be with pasta or steamed potatoes.)
4 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
2 c. basil leaves, lightly packed
1/2 c. parsley, leaves only
1 t. salt
freshly milled pepper
1 c. grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 c. olive oil
2 ripe tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped (can use canned)
If possible, pick and refrigerate basil leaves the day before using them in this sauce. This recipe comes from a woman born in Nice and although I dont understand her reasoning, I respect her knowledge of Provençale cooking. Mince the basil, garlic and parsley to a coarse purée texture, or use a food processor, but stop before you get to a purée. Add the salt, grind in the pepper, add the cheese and olive oil and very finely chopped tomato. For a smoother but somewhat coarse sauce, blend for a few seconds only. Pistou should have some texture. Serve over steamed shell beans.
Fava Beans with Spring Lettuce and Onions
1 T. olive oil
1 to 2 cloves garlic, minced
3 ribs of celery, sliced thinly
10 scallions or baby onions, bite-sized
2 c. shelled fresh Fava beans
1/4 vegetable or chicken stock, or water
1/4 c. dry white wine
1 to 2 c. leaves of lettuce, torn into bite-sized pieces
salt and pepper to taste
Heat a 3-qt. pot and add the olive oil. Sauté the garlic, celery and onions until onions are clear. Add the beans, broth and wine, cover and bring to a simmer. Cook the beans to taste and then add the lettuce. Cook for a few minutes to wilt the lettuce. Add salt and pepper to taste. Serves 4 as a vegetable course.
Egyptian Vegetable Soup
1 c. chopped onions
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 c. olive oil
1 t. ground cumin
1-1/2 t. sweet Hungarian paprika
1/4 t. cayenne
2 bay leaves
1 large carrot, chopped
1 c. chopped stewed tomatoes
4 c. vegetable stock
2 c. fresh shelled or canned favas
1/4 c. chopped parsley
1/4 c. snipped chives
3 T. fresh lemon juice
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
fresh mint leaves (optional)
In a large soup pot, sauté onions and garlic in olive oil, until onions are translucent. Add the cumin, paprika, cayenne, bay leaves, carrots and favas. Continue cooking for 5 minutes. Stir in the tomatoes and stock. Simmer until carrots and beans are tender. Add the chives, parsley and lemon juice. Season with salt and pepper. Garnish with mint. Serve with fresh pita bread. Makes 5 to 6 servings.