Glorious weather not withstanding, summer is a feeling. It is that sense of freedom engrained from our schooldays, of long hours wiled away in hedonistic pursuits. Blue skies and golden sunshine certainly help, loosening limbs and warming faces. Sadly, as myself and others have noted, Seattle is having rather a dismal showing in the seasonal department this year. But summer be damned, at least the family farm is in full force.
On a recent visit we were presented with several beds of fava beans, ready for harvest. They are the strangest bean, growing resolutely towards the sky like so many impudent, fat, green fingers. The leaves are pliable and tender and, according to my mother, can be used to make a very pleasant pesto!
We harvested about a third of the crop, easily filling a large storage bin. I must admit, hitherto my only reference for fava beans came from a certain horror film and a cliched line I shan’t bother to repeat. That evening I got my first taste of the bean in a quick salad. My first impression was one of freshness, of spring, not unlike a sugar-snap pea. Unlike a pea, however, which is straight-forward and honest in its sweet simplicity, the fava has a complexity and depth of flavor that can border on earthy or even bitter.
Returning home with a bag stuffed with these verdant pods, I was excited to try out various other recipes.
The difficulty with fresh favas is that the little bean is the most coddled legume I’ve ever encountered, and thus time-consuming to extract. Splitting open the pod, you will find it lined with a soft, downy fur. Within, the beans themselves are ensconced in thick individual skins. I understand that some say it won’t do any harm to leave this skin on, but I have found that getting right down to the essence of the bean is as rewarding to the palette as any artichoke heart.
All our shelling required musical accompaniment, so I put on one of the pride and joys of my record collection (full disclosure: this was appropriated from a certain familial attic, but finders keepers, eh?).
Two Steps Forward One Step Back by Patrick Sky immediately proclaims its worth with an endearing cover shot featuring Mississippi John Hurt, and delivers with one of my favorite collections of American folk, blues, and even an Irish ballad. I was hoping to find a Sky song to post for you here, but alas, no satisfactory recordings could be found. You’ll just have to pop by and we’ll listen and shell beans together.
Once shelled, the beans are ready to be blanched, cooled in an ice-bath, then popped with satisfying ease out of their skins.
The removal of these skins certainly reduces the bulk on the beans significantly, so don’t be surprised at how your bounty has shrunk.
Shelled and skined, the beans are almost violently green and lie glistening nakedly, ready to be eaten. We have since enjoyed them as a sort of puree, spread thickly on bread or enjoyed with crackers. They are also delicious scattered atop a salad, sauteed with asparagus, or really in any recipe where you would use peas. In this particular instance, I whipped up a quick summer pasta (gluten-free, naturally) with the fresh herbs I had on hand. Our summer may not be the most showy this year, but it has yet to disappoint in the culinary department.
Summer Pasta with Fresh Fava Beans and Herbs
- Fresh fava beans, shelled and skinned
- Pasta of your choice (I used gluten-free spaghetti)
- Juice of 1 lemon
- Pecorino romano or parmesan
- Garlic, minced or pushed through a press
- White wine
- Assorted fresh herbs, chopped fine (I used parsley and oregano)
- Extra virgin olive oil
- Fresh cracked pepper and sea salt to taste
Shell the fava beans. Bring a large pot of water to boil, and prepare an ice-bath. When the water is boiling, add the beans and allow to blanch for 30-40 seconds. Fish out the beans (don’t dump the water as you can use it for the pasta!) and transfer to the ice-bath until cool to the touch. Pop the skins off the beans, and discard.
Cook your pasta until al dente, drain and transfer to a large serving bowl.
Add the favas and all of the remaining ingredients. (A thumb placed across the mouth of the wine bottle will allow you to control the flow.) Toss well, taste and adjust seasoning as necessary. Serve and enjoy!