Fava beans are one of my very favorite vegetables, or rather, vegetations. Like grapes and fennel, favas are a “nose-to-tail” plant, and they have two(!) seasons. Sow them in early spring for a late spring-to-summer crop and again in late summer for a fall harvest.
pick their tender leaves to use in a salad. Then, when the showy, black-eyed flowers appear, you can take pictures to capture their beauty.
When the pods have grown plump with fruit, pick them for the table. This is where the work comes in. You need to blanch the pods, then shell them, then remove the tough skin enclosing each bean. It’s a chore, but it leads to a culinary prize: fresh fava beans are as revivifying in a vegetable dish on the table as they are replenishing to the earth in which they grow. In the home garden, as in ancient fields, when you’re done harvesting the fava beans, chop what’s left of the plants and let them lay to decompose and nourish the soil for the next round of planting there.
Here’s a recipe for a spring salad with fava beans, leeks–a seasonal companion, and Parmesan cheese crisps. The combination makes an especially good side for a charcuterie/salumi platter or simply sauteed fish, poultry, or meat dishes.
Serves 2 to 4
Lacy Parmesan Cheese Crisps, for serving
1 pound fava beans in the pod
1 small leek, dark green leaves trimmed away, white and light green part cut lengthwise into 3-inch long slivers
1 teaspoon coarsely cut up tarragon leaves
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
6 tender fava bean leaves, coarsely chopped
8 Kalamata olives
1. Make the cheese crisps and set them aside (see the directions under the photo above).
2. Heat the oven to 375F. Line a baking sheet with parchment.
Place 1/8 cup amounts of grated Parmesan on the baking sheet, spreading each out into a 4-inch circle without touching each other. Bake, without turning, until golden, about 6 minutes. Remove from the oven and set aside to cool. May be stored in an open container at room temperature for up to 5 days.
3. Bring a large pot of water to boil over high heat. Drop in the fava beans and cook until the pods wilt, about 2 minutes. With a wire strainer, lift the pods out of the pot and transfer to a colander, leaving the water in the pot. Run cold water over the beans to cool them enough to handle.
4. Shell the beans, then pull the “skin” off each one with your fingers. Place the prepared beans in a small bowl, add the tarragon, olive oil, and salt and toss to mix. Set aside.
5. Bring the water to a boil again. Cut the leek in half crosswise then cut each half lengthwise into thin ribbons. Drop into the water and cook until limp, about 2 minutes. Drain into a colander, rinse under cold water, and set aside to drip dry.
6. Spread the leeks on a platter. Top with the dressed favas and the fava leaves, garnish with the cheese crisps, and serve.
Note: In the interest of science and caution, I must mention that some people can’t easily digest favas. Favism is the term for this condition. It’s rare, and more likely to occur with dried favas than fresh ones, but worth noting in case you’re prone to digestive disorders.