02 May 2013

AUNTIE PASTA: It Must Be Spring

CHIAVARI, Italy – A friend of mine once told me that it isn’t spring in Italy until the fava beans are in the market. Well, it must be spring because at yesterday’s mega May Day food fest in Rapallo, fava beans were the stars of the show. Everywhere I looked I saw families happily shelling piles of fava beans to eat with a little pecorino cheese and slices of local salami.
 Fave, Salami and Pecorino Romano, A Sure Sign of Spring in Italy
I don’t know if they sell unshelled fava beans in the markets in the States now, I know they didn’t when I lived there. I don’t know why they have never caught on, it may be because it takes time to shell fava beans, and time seems to be the one thing that is always in short supply.

Fava beans in their pods look like overgrown bumpy string beans. They are 5 to 7 inches long and the inside of the pod is lined with what looks like white velvet. When you buy fava beans, look for green pods that are not bulging, bulging pods are older pods and the beans tend to have a slightly bitter taste. Favas should have a sweet, nutty taste, which is why they go so well with the sharp flavor of pecorino cheese.
 Rapallo, The Best of the Italian Riviera on Offer
Also, you have to buy a lot of them because the beans are shelled twice. One pound of un-peeled favas will only give you about 1/3 cup of beans. Here’s how you do it: Simply split the pod open and take out the beans. There are about 4 to 5 beans per pod. You will see that the just shelled beans have a thick skin around them, and that needs to be peeled off as well. There are cooks who say you can eat the beans with the skin on them if you cook them thoroughly, but if you are going to eat them raw, which is the way they are meant to be eaten if you are pairing them with pecorino and salami, you need to peel off the second skin.

here are two ways to do this. The first way is to make a small cut with a knife along the edge of the bean and pop the inner bean out of its skin. The Italians suggest boiling them for 3 or 4 minutes, or, you can blanch the fava beans by putting them in boiling salted water for about 30 seconds, take them out and immediately put them in ice cold water to stop the cooking process. The boiling and/or 30 second blanching softens the inner skin making it easier to remove. Then you just squeeze the bean out of its skin.
 So Much to Chose From, All of it Good
Not complicated, but it does take a little time. The families I saw in Rapallo yesterday didn’t seem to be in a hurry as they shelled and ate beans, nibbled on cheese and salami and sipped a little red wine. They seemed to be having a grand time doing it.

Fave with pecorino, even without salami, is a great antipasto and a variation of the recipe below. They are both worth trying when fave are in season.
 May Day in Rapallo
 You have to be careful not to overpower the delicate taste of the fave. I saw some truly frightening treatments of fava beans on YouTube this morning, like drowning them in olive oil and apple cider vinegar, or pairing them with spicy hot peppers, and, and I don’t even want to tell you the rest as I got goose bumps just thinking about what was happening to them.

The truth is, and this is true of so many Italian recipes, this is such a simple dish to prepare it doesn’t even feel like cooking, and yet it is Italian cooking at its best.

Typical Roman Fave and Pecorino Antipasto
Serves 4

400 g. fresh, shelled fava beans
250 g. pecorino Romano
400 g. mixed salad greens,
include slightly bitter ones like rucola  (the original recipe calls for mixed field greens, including dandelion, which you can buy in Italy in any village vegetable stand in the spring).
1 spring onion
8 slices of country style Italian bread
Extravirgin olive oil, salt, balsamic vinegar

Toast the bread slices. Clean the onion and slice it into rounds. Rinse the salad greens and dry them, and put them in a large serving bowl. Sprinkle with salt, a drizzle of extravirgin olive oil and a little balsamic vinegar. Serve the salad with the toasted bread, the fresh fave beans and shavings of pecorino Romano.

p.s. if you happen to buy really fresh, really young fava beans you don't have to shell them twice, just eat the whole bean and enjoy. 


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