I think my first encounter with fava beans was in the 70’s when I went to school in Rome. I was surrounded by Italians — many in love with cooking (but, of course). So I was not only encouraged to eat fava, but to cook them, too. It’s a process I would bring home with me to NYC… and one that I would encounter in quantity while working the prep kitchen at Mario Batali’s Lupa restaurant. There, we were asked to prepare the fava beans with love. And we did.
Favas are not the kind of vegetable you bring home and just sauté, or boil, or roast. There’s a time-intensive, work-intensive ritual before the cooking starts. Don’t be scared away. It’s well worth it!
Favas generally appear in the spring and fall. But with our global transfer of foods, there are places you might be able to buy them all the time. I find them often at international groceries and/or Middle Eastern grocery stores. Italians are not the only culture in love with fava beans.
Here’s a recipe for fava cooked with leeks and pancetta and tossed with pasta. Do (really do) try it. It’s homey, and easy, and full of flavor. And quick!
First. How to prepare the favas. They grow in thick pods — like peas pods after a workout. Get a lot. I usually half-fill or almost-fill a clear vegetable bag. After shucking the beans you’ll throw away the pods.
Tear open the pods, and pull out the beans inside.
But you’re not done with prep yet. First get a medium saucepan of water boiling. Add little salt. Toss in the fava beans and boil for about 1-2 minutes. You’re not really cooking them here, just trying to loosen the shells.
Drain the beans and run them under cool water. Now pinch one end of the shell and push out the deeper green-colored bean inside.
You can throw out the shells. But keep those precious green jewels!
NOW start your recipe. Sauté some minced leek (I use 1 leek, just the white part, rinsed well), with about 1/4 lb. diced pancetta in a little olive oil.
When the leek has softened and the pancetta cooks through, add the favas. Sauté 3-4 minutes. Then add a splash of dry white wine or dry vermouth. Let that evaporate.
Then simmer for 4-5 minutes more until the favas are tender to the bite. Season with salt.
Meanwhile, boil a favorite cut pasta in salted boiling water— about 1/2 lb. When almost al dente drain and add to the sauté pan.
Cook stirring for a few minutes more. Add some pasta water if too dry. Add a few drizzles of olive oil. Season with some more salt if needed.
Add some torn basil leaves if you’ve got ’em. Mmmmmm! Enjoy.
Fresh Fava Bean w Pasta Recipe
2 lbs. fava beans in pods
1 leek, trimmed of green, rinsed, & diced
1/4 lb. diced pancetta
olive oil for sautéing plus extra
1/4 cup dry white wine or dry vermouth
1/2 lb. favorite cut pasta
salt to taste
Open the pods and take out the fava beans. Discard pods. Bring a medium saucepan, half full with water, to a boil. Salt water. Drop in fava beans, boil for 1-2 minutes. Drain and rinse in cool water. Pinch the end of each bean shell and push out the bright green beans in side. Discard shells.
Put a pot of pasta water on to boil.
Add a couple of drizzles of olive oil to a medium sauté pan, heat till hot. Add diced leek and pancetta. Sauté for 1- 2 minutes. Add fava beans, sauté for 1-2 minutes. Add wine or vermouth. Simmer until mostly evaporated, 2-3 minutes more. Cook a couple of minutes more until fava are tender to the bite.
Meanwhile, add salt to boiling water and boil pasta. When almost al dente, drain and add pasta to sauté pan. Stir to coat. Sauté adding some pasta water if too dry, adding some olive oil to coast, adjust seasoning (salt), add some torn fresh basil if you have some.
Serve with grated parmigiano (optional).