are a bit of work to prepare, fresh favas are a fleeting spring treat
worth seeking out.
Let’s be up
front about it: Favas are a bit of work. But their rich and complex
flavor is so delicious, they’re worth the effort it takes to shuck the floppy
pods and then peel each bean.
Favas are nutty and slightly sweet, with just a hint of
bitterness and a discernible and intriguing taste of cheese. Cooked until
tender, they turn buttery and can be added to soups, salads, or pastas, braised
as a side dish, puréed for a dip, or eaten plain out of hand as a delightful
the fava isn’t a bean at all; it’s more closely related to peas. But
this vegetable has been called a bean for hundreds of years, and the
appellation continues to stick. Fresh favas are a spring favorite in England
(where they’re called broad beans), and both fresh and dried favas are eaten
throughout the Middle East. In North America, fresh favas are considered a
specialty vegetable and can be hard to find, but they are well worth seeking
out. Small to medium fava beans are more tender and sweeter than large beans,
which are starchier.
Showcase favas’ flavor
favas (directions in "Getting to the heart of the matter" below) need
to be cooked just until tender, anywhere from several to about 12 minutes,
depending on size and freshness. Most fava recipes call for braising,
starting by warming the favas in a little oil or butter and then adding liquid
and cooking until tender. For soups, add peeled favas during the last quarter
hour of cooking, so there’s time for them to get tender and for the flavors to
meld. Or you can boil peeled favas in salted water until tender and store them
in the refrigerator (for up to a week) to use cold in salads or to add to
risottos and pastas near the end of cooking. In the sidebar at bottom right
I’ve included some ways to use favas when you don’t have a lot. If you find
yourself with 3 pounds or more in the shell, though, make the versatile and
delicious Fava Bean Purée or try one of the suggestions in the panel "If
you have lots of favas."
flavor is enhanced by onions, garlic, and their kin and by cured pork, olive
oil, butter, cream, and cheeses. Good herb companions include rosemary,
thyme, savory, chives, dill, and mint. Classic vegetable partners are those that are in season at the same time
- artichokes, asparagus, peas, beets, new potatoes, spring onions, and fennel. Lemon
and vinegar add zip.
Getting to the heart of the matter
Favas grow inside bright green, fleshy pods that have a
thick, white, cottony lining. Each flat fava is encased in a pale, fairly thick
skin, which becomes thicker and bitter as the favas grow larger. It’s this
double shelling that gives favas the reputation of being labor-intensive.
favas, break open the pods. Sometimes you can slide your finger along one side,
opening the seam as you would a zipper, but other times you just have to break
the pod apart in pieces.
favas in boiling water for one minute, drain, and cool under running water.
Favas have one slightly flattened, slightly wider end with a scar where it was
attached to the shell.
fava between your fingers with the scar facing up, and with the thumbnail of
your other hand, tear into the scar end and peel back. Pinch gently and
the fava will slide right out.
If you have lots of favas...
Make a classic Roman-style braise. Sauté pancetta (or
bacon), garlic, and chopped herbs (rosemary, savory, or thyme) in olive oil,
add the favas and stir, then add water (deglaze with a little white wine before
adding the water if you like); cover and simmer just until tender.
together a savory bean salad. Boil favas, drain, and turn into a bowl.
Toss gently with best-quality olive oil, sea salt, and grated lemon zest (use
Meyer lemon if you have one) and let cool. Stir in chopped tender herbs like
dill, chives, or chervil and serve at room temperature. If you don’t have quite
enough favas, extend the dish with cooked chickpeas.
antipasto platter of boiled favas drizzled with a little olive oil, thin slices
of salami or cured ham, interesting olives, some good cheese (Parmigiano-Reggiano
or a first-rate sheep’s milk cheese), pieces of preserved lemon, and slices of
crusty, chewy bread.
cold side salad by tossing boiled favas with a sprightly dressing of plain
Greek-style yogurt thinned with a little lemon juice and mixed with thinly
sliced scallions and lots of chopped chives or dill.
If you have a handful of favas…
Make a classic seasonal mixed vegetable braise with
artichokes, onions, plenty of garlic (use new “green” garlic if you can), baby
carrots, and peas or fennel. Use a combination of white wine and water or broth
for the braising liquid and finish with chopped herbs.
together a pretty salad plate. Pile boiled and peeled favas and tiny
beets on a bed of endive, mâche, and beet greens dressed in red-wine vinaigrette.
Add some toasted bread and a good goat cheese.
flavorful primavera sauce for pasta using favas, asparagus, onion, garlic,
mushrooms, a little cream, and lemon zest. Or skip the cream and use
shrimp, bacon or pancetta, and a little hot pepper.
elegant seafood salad. Start with a base of hearts of butter lettuce
tossed in a lemon-shallot vinaigrette. Add thick slices of avocado, lumps of
lobster or crab or shrimp, boiled favas, new potatoes, and a couple of baby
beets or turnips. Spoon a bit more vinaigrette over the additions and serve
with homemade saffron-scented aïoli for dipping.