Love’s Labor, Eaten

Fava beans are ugly and a ton of work. You want them anyway. Here’s why.

Everyone is a fool for something; my current folly is favas. Yes, those enormous, black-spotted lumpy pods are ugly. Yes, you have to shell them not once but twice, with a quick blanching thrown in for good measure. Yes, an unreasonably large bag produces what seems like a miserly amount of finished beans. (I measured last week—four pounds of favas-in-shells, at $3 a pound, mind you, yielded not quite 13 ounces of twice-shelled beans.) They’re a labor of love, no doubt, but oh, the results: meaty, sweet, rich, earthy, and unctuous. “Can I say that favas are the pork of the vegetable world?” I asked Tara. “Only if you want people to know how much you love them,” was her sage reply.

The first thing I do with favas each year is stew them briefly with a little garlic (it’s fresh these days), perhaps a sprig or two of thyme or summer savory, and some good olive oil. I let the mixture cool to room temperature, then spoon it over grilled crusty bread (or, less elegantly, use the bread to scoop piles of the beans right out of the bowl).

Next I’ll make an impromptu succotash: I sauté a dice of new onion and a few peppers of various colors, then add some favas and the kernels I’ve stripped off a few ears of unsprayed corn with a boning knife. When the corn and favas are almost cooked I might add a splash of white wine, and when I take the pan off the heat I’ll toss in a handful of chopped basil or some other sympathetic herb. This makes a great side dish for roasted chicken or, with a little more of that special olive oil, a delicious sauce for short pasta. Starting with a diced slice of two of smoky bacon doesn’t hurt, either (but you knew I’d say that).

These last few weeks I’ve been buying extra favas so I can use a new trick in my repertoire. Peter Hoffman, the chef at Savoy, recently told me how to make the Ligurian “salsa maró:” take a clove of garlic, two anchovy fillets, a few generous pinches of grated Parmesan, a pound of favas (shelled, blanched, and shelled again), and a half-dozen mint leaves, and pound them in a mortar with olive oil until they’re smooth. (I’ve made a nice rough version by chopping everything together and squishing a fork through the mix.) “Put it on toasted bread or serve it with cold meats,” says Peter. “Yum-a-licious.” I completely agree. I’d never have thought of anchovies, favas, and mint together, but the range of flavors in that sauce—bright mint to funky anchovy—is so marvelous you’ll forget you spent twenty minutes shelling the damn beans

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