Wednesday, July 22, 2009

My Legume Love for Fava Beans

The fresh fava bean is a legume I have heard people swoon over and certainly Hannibal Lecter's infamous comment about them pairing well with liver and a nice Chianti in the book and film "The Silence of the Lambs" is arresting, so they have long "bean" on my list of vegetables to try out in the Crispy Garden. The seeds are huge: as big as my thumb and look as magical as any fairy tale bean, so they were easy enough to plant.

The plants are unusual and lovely as well. They grow fast into crunchy, squared off stalks with graceful leaves and black and white blossoms.

Unfortunately, as soon as the plants started to blossom, regiments of black aphids invaded, with accompanying camp followers of ants to stroke their adbdomens for some sort of insect "honey". They must have taken Lecter's culinary advice, because they were all over the delicate tips of my fava plants and I couldn't really squish them off without hurting the plants. I tried blasting them with water, but again, the fava tips are somewhat delicate, so I had this black blight on some of my fava beans when they developed their large seed pods. They come right out of the stalk of the plant, so this is truly an unusual looking vegetable to have in the garden.

The yield from one packet of seeds was not huge, but I did harvest one colander's worth of fava pods. They are very cute legumes, all snug in their downy sleeping bag pods. It is somewhat laborious wrestling them from these coccoons, sort of like waking up a teenager on a dark winter's morning. You can't just split open the pod and shake out the beans, like one does with fresh peas, as the pods are very fibrous and the favas each have a tough little umbilicus that one has to snap individually with a fingernail. After my wrestling match, my colander's worth of produce had shrunk down to 2 cups of favas.

Now I had still one culinary prep step to go with my favas. The bigger beans have a tough membrane that needs to be slipped off, so I prepared a hot and salty water bath for my favas and blanched them for 5 minutes. After they cooled, I again had a laborious project of attempting to slip off their skins, which worked on the bigger beans, but which only served to smash up my smaller favas, so in the end, I left the membranes on the smaller ones.

From two rows of fava plants to one colander of bean pods, now I had only one cup of precious, delicious, buttery favas. Such green gold must be accorded the finest treatment, so I hovered over cookbooks, cooking websites, perused my friend Linda's multiple fava recipe emails (she had been over for a garden tour earlier) and ended up making a simple, but luscious sauteed fava topper for some pasta.

It's a simple recipe: I heated some olive oil in a skillet, sauteed a few cloves of sliced garlic, seasoned with salt and pepper and added my favas for the last couple of minutes to heat through and then added this green crown to our bowls of pasta with some slivered fresh basil for an elegant Spring supper. Legume love indeed.

I'll have to consider planting favas again in another garden season. While the plants were gorgeous, if aphidious, the harvest was somewhat meager. I enjoyed picking them and cooking them, but it does seem unproductive to end up with one cup of edible greens after all that time and effort. Sort of like trying maple syrup production when one has only one tree.

Perhaps if I can research aphid control, it would make sense to grow them again if I could grill them in their pods as per this delectable recipe for Grilled Fava Pods with Chile and Lemon, and avoid the arduous shelling. I (with Linda's guidance) also noticed some other tasty recipes for favas which intrigued me for the future: Saute of Fresh Favas with Onions and Fennel, Tagliatelle with Favas and Romano, and Persian Sabzi Polo.

My kitchen and garden experiments with fava beans seem like a good submission for one of my favorite monthly food blog events, My Legume Love Affair, the brainchild of Susan, The Well-Seasoned Cook, which is being hosted this round by TongueTicklers. You can join in the fun by submitting a post about your favorite legume to TongueTicklers by July 31st. There are even a couple of prizes involved, including a cookie cook book and a collection of dried beans, so be sure to check out the MLLA Event this month.


Sunshinemom said...

Thank you for the details of the fava bean plant. This is a very informative and beautiful post. You are so lucky to have garden space for these plants!

I liked your comparison of the bean to a 'sort of like waking up a teenager on a dark winter's morning':). I having a tough time waking one teen and one pre-teen on dark rainy days!!

gluten-freek said...

I have just discovered the wonder of fava beans! (Broad beans in the UK) I didn't like them as a child so had been avoiding them.

Will definitely try them on pasta.

Thanks for the post.

Foodycat said...

Broad beans are lovely - but I can't imagine the disappointment of all that effort for such a small return. It's bad enough when the massive bag from the greengrocer only yields a meal for 2 people!