Veggie of the Week - Fava Beans
sponsored by Coleman Farms
For some, the swallow is the harbinger of Spring, for others it may be April showers, but here we'll talk of beans, specifically the Fava Bean . The Fava, like other peas and beans, can be preserved by drying and used year around. Dried, the Fava has an important role in cusine throughout the Mediterranean. Fresh Favas, having a brief season that's associated with the advent of warmer sunnier weather, are special, having many of the associations that Strawberries used to have for us.
The Fava is known as the only Old World bean, a notion made easier to digest by the knowledge that the Fava is actually a pea, not a true bean, all of which are from the New World. Though Favas have been eaten in the Mediterranean since before the beginning of history, the region's popuation (as well as certain Asians and Africans) have a high incidence of favism an allergy to two proteins contained in the raw bean. Though this condition can lead to a fatal reaction, this possibility hasn't stopped people in the region eating raw Favas. The lesson must be that members of these populations procede with caution and take any adverse reaction seriously, rather as American deal with nut allergies. We include a link or two to discussions of the medical implications, negative and, perhaps more interesting, positive, of Fava Beans.
The first step in using fresh Favas is shelling them. If you have very young beans - about the size of a baby lima - this may be all you need to do. On older beans the outer husk will be fairly tough and indigestible, and must be removed before using the beans. The recepie for an Apuleian bean soup calls for six pounds of Favas, shelled and peeled. This is not going to be a twenty-minute meal, and calls for either extra hands or an old-fashioned attitude to repetitive manual labor, either of which can be welcomed as a wholesome change from the modern workplace, or kitchen, for that matter (see link 3). More mature beans may need to be blanched to make peeling easier.
If you want to eat the beans raw, you're just about ready: add bread, pecorino or reggiano cheese, red wine, a shady view of a sunny field.... You may prefer to marinate the peeled Fabas in a vinaigrette, with cracked black peppercorns or red chile flakes and more or less garlicky or lemony to taste.
Fresh Fabas, like true beans, can be used anywhere dried ones can, with the proviso that the fresh ones don't require soaking and cook much faster. This makes them specially suited to fryups (for example, the Spanish Habas con Jamón; or you might cook some beans, onion and garlic slowly until tender then add beaten eggs and sliced tomato) and to pasta dishes. Another early Mediterranean vegetable is Fennel. This, together with tender fresh Fabas and some onion, sautéed together, would make a nice topping, with maybe some wal or pine nuts, for spaghetti or fettucine.