If you're shelling fava beans for more than just yourself -- cracking open each chubby pod, peeling away every bean's little green wetsuit, and leaving a massive pile of detritus in your wake -- you either love that person with unshakeable devotion, or you are a restaurant prep cook. As we know, the most infamous lover of favas preferred to dine alone.
Of course, you can get resourceful, and double-peel just enough to scatter through a pasta course or top a crostini, and you'll appreciate each tender, denuded bean all the more.
But still -- if this is what you think you're committing to every time you buy a pound of favas, aren't you that much more likely to let the season pass by?
Well, stop right there. Fava beans don't deserve their high-maintenance reputation. They're much more relaxed than we give them credit for. The fact is: they were born edible, from pod to peel to bean -- we're the ones pigeon-holing them as spring's biggest divas.
Chefs like Judy Rodgers and Peter Hoffman -- both pros at making the best of what nature provides -- have come to realize that there's no reason to disregard these less desirable bits. As with liver or kale stems or unripe peaches, you just have to put more thought into making them delicious. And Ignacio Mattos, former chef of Il Buco and Isa, may have come up with the most thoughtful, delicious way of all.
Here are his secrets for taming them:
1. Grilling. Smoke and char do wonderful things to fava's thick-walled pods and skins. Whatever resistance is left melts away as they steam back in the bowl. (No grill in sight? A smoking cast iron skillet works too.)
2. Seeking out tender young things. Look for the smallest, cutest favas you can find. But even if you're stuck with the big, gnarly ones, you can eat the pods you want, and just pop out the inner beans for the ones you don't -- they'll still slide out more easily after they've been cooked.
3. Using all the best flavors at once: olive oil, salt, chile, garlic, and rosemary to start; plus lemon and anchovy to finish. Like a rough and tumble Caesar.
4. Returning the cooked pods to the same bowl. After they're tossed in the marinade the first time, a bit fuses in as they sear on the grill. But then they're put right back in the pool of marinade to latch on to the flavors anew.
5. Did I say anchovy? I meant a crazy amount of anchovy. So much that I was a little scared. But trust me: I tasted one pod before adding any anchovy and was ready to cast them aside as flat, soulless, un-genius. Then I stirred in the whole chopped up tin's worth, along with plenty of lemon, and polished off the rest of the bowl without sitting down.
So, in this way, Mattos' fava beans were still favas for one. But now, at least they're scalable.
1 pound fresh fava beans in their pods, the younger the better? 1 teaspoon fleur de sel 1 teaspoon ground chile pepper 1 teaspoon picked rosemary? 3 or 4 cloves chopped garlic 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more to finish? 2 tablespoons water 1 whole lemon, for juice? 7 or 8 canned anchovies, in oil? Handful of toasted bread crumbs (optional)
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I'm an ex-economist, ex-Californian who moved to New York to work in food media in 2007. Dodgy career choices aside, I can't help but apply the rational tendencies of my former life to things like: recipe tweaking, digging up obscure facts about pizza, and deciding how many pastries to put in my purse for "later."