What to Do With Fava Beans
I can’t believe I’m writing about fava beans in June. Late June, even. Most years, favas are some of the first harbingers of spring, along with mint and English peas, and I’m there waiting when the farmer’s market opens for the season to pounce on them. This year, though, we had a long, hard winter. Everything came into season late. For several weeks, I scoured the market for favas in vain. But now, here in almost-July, the market is blooming with all the luscious vegetables and fruits we waiting so long for. Spring and summer may come late, but they come.
This tutorial is a precursor to a recipe I’ll post later this week for fava bean risotto. I’ve had this one up my sleeve for a while, and I’m excited to share it with you. But first, I wanted to share some tips for working with fava beans – they can be a little confusing at first, since most American cooks aren’t used to working with fresh shell beans.
For most recipes, you’ll need to shell, cook and peel the fava beans before you use them. The shells are bulky and thick; what starts looking like a monstrous pile of beans in their shells ends up as a manageable, sometimes rather meager bowl of peeled beans. So when you find yourself at the farm stand thinking that maybe you don’t need the six million pounds of fava beans your recipe calls for, think again! And buy them. Buy them all.
Shell the beans by snapping off the stem end and pulling the string down the side of the pod. Then split the pod open along the seam and dig out the beans.
Now the beans will be shelled but not peeled, you see. If you are like me, you won’t be able to resist fondling them a little. So soft and perfectly translucent – and that lovely fava bean smell….
But you can’t leave them like this. The skins are tough and bitter, not tasty at all. At this point, boil a big pot of water, and toss in your shelled beans along a tablespoon or two of salt. Let them boil for about a minute or two: you will see the peels begin to loosen.
My culinary school instructors would insist that immediately after draining, you plunge the beans into a bowl of ice cold water. You can do that, but the sky won’t fall nor will the earth shake if you just run them under cold tap water in a colander until they’re cool, instead.
Puncture each peel with your (clean, please) thumbnail, or a knife if you are not so fortunate as to have a thumbnail, and pop the fava bean out.
This is what your beans will look like after you’ve shelled and peeled them – sort of, only yours will be a brighter, more grassy green, and they will be slimier. This one helpfully popped out of its pod raw, while I was doing the photo shoot, so it doesn’t look quite like a cooked, peeled fava.
Once you’ve gotten to this stage, you can use your favas for anything! Spreads or dips (like an even more spectacular version of hummus), pastas (favas marry especially well with pesto), salads…or you could wait until later this week when I post that risotto recipe. It will exceed your wildest risotto dreams. Stay tuned.