Thursday, May 10, 2012

Fabulous Favas

Another sure sign of Spring: the beautiful fava bean appears. Long, non-descript pods piled high at the market or at your local specialty store. Favas are loaded with great nutritional value: they are a source of protein, folate, and many essential vitamins including B. Their flavor is nutty, ever so slightly bitter and oh so yummy. They can be eaten whole, mashed or pureed. In my research of favas I came to find out that this wonderful healthy ingredient dates back to the Bronze age, said to have been originally cultivated in the Mediterranean. (wow!)

When I picked these up at the market I wasn't sure exactly what I would be doing with them. Sometimes, well actually many times, I pick things up that look interesting. On my way home I usually start percolating ideas in my mind.

After placing the favas in my basket I also spotted these really pretty purple carrots too. Here is an interesting factoid: before the 17th century carrots were predominantly purple, in addition to also being yellow and white. In the late 16th century Dutch growers crossed several varieties and cultivated the orange color we see today.

First things first: you need to shell the beans. The pods are pretty easy to open and the beans easy to slide out.

Once you shell the beans you need to blanch them, not only to cook them but to also help get the actual bean out of it's thick casing. Since my beans were on the small side I blanched them in boiling salted water for about 3 minutes. After letting them cool a bit they popped right out.

My husband Larry came home from work just as I was finishing up with that last step. When I showed him what I was doing he responded, "Wow, seems like a lot of work." He's probably right. However, most things that are special take a little extra work, right? The way I see it, fresh favas only come around once a year, so go ahead and take the time - it will be worth it!

I like doing non-thinking prep tasks from time to time. You can let your mind wander, and in this case, I got to thinking about a great salad I had when I was in Greece a few years ago. The thing that was so interesting about it was the salad was sitting on top of a bread rusk. A bread rusk is basically a piece of bread that is twice baked, typically found in Crete.  In that particular dish the dressing and juices from the tomato soaked into the crunchy bread and softened it slightly. I just happened to have a small round Tuscan boule that would work perfectly. Using my favas and purple carrots I was going to re-imagine that salad!

After I finished with my favas I turned my attention to the carrots. After a quick peel I decided to just steam them for a few minutes. Once cooked I sliced the carrots and set them aside. The tops of my carrots were in really good shape, so I decided to use them in my dressing. I highly encourage you to do that as well. Carrot greens are edible and have great flavor. 

Now to pull it all together: along with some delicate baby spinach I tossed it all with a simple lemon vinaigrette and served over my crunchy slice of rustic bread. Just for good measure I topped with some toasted almonds.

Don't be discouraged by the time factor of favas. Like I said, they only come around once a year and you would be missing something special if you don't give them a try.

Before I sign off I want to take a moment to wish all the Mom's out there, especially mine, a very Happy Mothers Day this coming Sunday. If you are are looking for something fun to do this weekend you might want to check out my special cooking classes just for Mom and kids, at Tarry Market.

Buon Appetito!

Fava and Spinach Salad
Serves 4
1 bunch small purple carrots, peeled, tops reserved
1/2 cup fresh lemon juice
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons of finely minced carrot greens, or parsley
Kosher salt and freshly grated black pepper to taste.
4 cups of baby spinach
4 thick slices of rustic bread, drizzled with a little olive oil and toasted
1/4 cup blanched almonds, toasted (optional)

2 1/2 lbs fresh fava beans, shelled, final yield is about 1 cup

Place two small pots of water on to boil and add a teaspoon of kosher salt to each. Add the shelled favas to one pot and the peeled carrots to the other. Blanch for 2-3 minutes. Drain both and set aside to cool.
Meanwhile combine the lemon juice, olive oil, carrot greens and seasoning, whisking until blended.  Set the dressing aside.

Once the favas are cool enough to handle gently remove them from their waxy casing. That can be done easily by pinching the end and letting them pop out. (This is probably the most time consuming part, but once you get into a groove it will happen quickly.) Add them to a large mixing bowl. Slice up the carrots and add them to the bowl along with the spinach. Toss with about a third of the dressing.

Place the bread slices on four plates. Drizzle each with 2 tablespoons of the dressing. Divide the salad evenly over the four plates. Top with the nuts, another drizzle of the remaining dressing and serve immediately!

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