Wednesday, May 13, 2009

A grown-up veg in a kids' meal for grown-ups

Magic beans.

I will probably lose some foodie cred for this, but up until quite recently, I had never cooked with fava beans. I'm not sure that I had even tasted them. Part of what put me off, and I think I'm not alone in this, is the work involved: first the shelling, then the blanching, then the peeling. Or the peeling sans blanching, which I'm told is more difficult. As there are plenty of other delicious green veggies in the garden, especially in springtime, I've cruised along year after year without giving fava beans much thought.

This year was different: I got fava pods in my CSA box, which made them impossible to ignore. Fortunately for us fava bean novices, they started us off gently with baby fava pods. Fun fava fact: the young ones, no thicker than your finger, can be eaten pods and all just like string beans. They're surprisingly good cut into pieces and sauteed in some butter with a bit of salt and pepper, with a deeper, richer flavor than that of string beans. And so my introduction to fava beans was an easy one.

But young things grow up, even fava beans, and before long the pods had gotten too big to be eaten. It was time to shell and peel. Thanks to a nudge from Smitten Kitchen, peeled favas and I got off to a good start with this recipe from Bon Appetit. It was good, and definitely something I'll make again, but the favas' flavor didn't exactly play a starring role. I wanted to make something that really centered on the beans themselves and showcased their brilliant color, which I think is perfect for springtime.

I didn't expect to find that recipe in a parenting magazine, but there it was on Epicurious, exactly what I was looking for: something quick and easy for a weeknight (as quick and easy as favas ever are), and something in which the beans are front and center. But, a parenting magazine? Really? Not that good recipes can't come from parenting magazines, but fava beans? There are plenty of fresh vegetables that I can imagine preparing for a toddler. Fava beans are not among them. I have this mental image of a harried parent working furiously to peel the beans while a tired, hungry, and therefore cranky child does tired, hungry, and cranky child things.

If I ever have kids, and if they ever read this: kids, if I never make fava bean mash for you, it's not because I don't love you. It's because I love you enough to want you to have a sane mother.

And yes, you read that correctly, this is a recipe for fava bean mash. Wrinkling your nose? I suppose I don't blame you, but I'm actually a big fan of mashed or pureed beans. Refried beans, pureed black bean soup, garlicky white bean puree on toast, and so on. This recipe is in the same vein. And as with many other bean dishes, this one starts out with some bits of cured pork (pancetta, in this case) for flavor.

Fava beans cooking

Some good, crusty bread--toasted, brushed with oil, and rubbed with fresh garlic--provides a nice vehicle and a bit of crunch to offset the mushiness. I think it's a great recipe if you need a relatively easy hors d'oeuvre for a get-together; but if you're in a simple mood, as I was this evening, it's also a fine, satisfying meal by itself. And I like the idea of appropriating a recipe intended for kids as a pleasant, even comforting meal for adults. Get some water boiling and have a colander at the ready, and follow me below for the recipe.

BaguetteSliced baguette.

Fava Beans and Pancetta

Serves 4


  • 3 cups shelled fava beans
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, divided
  • 4 ounces pancetta or bacon, diced small
  • 2 large cloves garlic, minced or put through a garlic press, plus 1 clove for rubbing bread
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • Juice of 1/2 lemon, or to taste
  • Crusty bread, sliced on the diagonal
  • Freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano for serving (optional)


  1. Place an oven rack in the top position and preheat the oven to 450F/230C.
  2. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add the beans and cook for 2-3 minutes. Drain and rinse with cold water to stop the beans from cooking further. Peel beans; discard peels and set beans aside.
  3. Heat half of the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the pancetta and cook until crisp, about 5 minutes. Add the minced garlic and cook until fragrant, 1 minute.
  4. Add the peeled fava beans and season with salt and pepper. Cook until the beans are very tender, 6 to 8 minutes.
  5. Meanwhile, brush the bread slices with the remaining olive oil and toast until golden. Keep an eye on them, you don't want them to burn. When they're done, rub them with the cut side of half of the remaining garlic clove and set aside.
  6. Use a fork to mash the beans in the pan, adding more olive oil if the mixture is too dry. Mix in the lemon juice.
  7. Spread the bean mixture on the toasts, top with grated cheese (if using), and serve.

Fava bean and pancetta bruschetta


Anonymous said...

Wow - Your site and your photos have just blossomed into such an amazing thing.

Simply a beautiful site, all around.

I'm proud of you.

Sorry I don't stop by as often as I used to, it's a long story.

Anne said...

Thank you, friend! I'm enjoying the journey, and the learning process.

I hope that you and yours are well, and I'm glad that you visit when you can. Take care.

Bee said...

Anne - Anon is so right; your site is wonderful. You write so well, and your photographs are really high-quality.

And now to fava beans . . . I'm afraid that I have no associations or history with them, other than the oft-quoted line from Hannibal Lecter. The pasta dish sounds wonderful, but as you say, the fava beans are hardly key . . . and could probably be left out altogether. I never notice these at the grocery store, but I will keep an eye out. (Mashing them for babies? Good grief.)

Anne said...

Until recently, that line from Silence of the Lambs was all I associated with them, too.

You might be able to find them at the grocery store, but a farmer's market is probably a better bet. We're nearing the end of fava season here (this is the last week I'll have them in my CSA box) but you can probably still get them in England. I think they're known as broad beans in the UK. They're large, tough-looking green pods at least as thick as your thumb and probably a good 7-8 inches long on average.