Sunday, April 15, 2012
Fava beans are among the most ancient cultivated crops in the world. In ancient Greece, the dried beans were used to tally votes.
Also called broad beans, in many parts of the Mediterranean, vicia faba is sown in the fall and harvested in the spring. The fresh young beans are much loved in Italy, where they are eaten fresh, with a sprinkling of parmesan or a touch of fresh mint.
We don't see fresh fava beans much in the US, except at farmers' markets. In Santa Monica, they are here for a short time in spring. The pods are long, lumpy and curved, and the beans inside are cushioned by a kind of cottony inner fuzz.
Once you've shelled your favas, the beans inside have a tough skin that also needs to be peeled. The easiest way to do this is to boil them for about three minutes; then the skin can be slipped off with your fingers. You can eat them lightly blanched like this, or cook them longer if you like.
Even so, it's a little tedious, since you have to handle each bean. But I think the fresh, green, earthy taste of fava beans is worth it.
Here we made crostini with some good country bread brushed with oil, and roasted for ten minutes in a hot oven. We spread the toasts with some fresh whole-milk ricotta, and then with a mash of blanched fava beans with salt and pepper and a little chopped fresh mint leaves.