17 July 2012

The Other Pesto: Fava Bean


The fava bean (vicia faba), also known as a broad bean, gave a boost of energy to the pyramid builders of Egypt, which means this bean has been around a long time, some 6000 years.

The fava is a spring wonder. But it’s July, you say! Well, July is spring in the Northwest, as anyone dying to wear sandals and a sundress for at least three days running knows. Men included.

Favas love cold weather and are typically grown in the fall for a spring harvest. They’re also a favorite cover crop because they put good stuff back into the soil. Nearly the whole plant is edible—the flowers, the tender leaves, the whole young pod and the bean itself (the most likely way you’ll experience favas). The plant is also unmatched in the garden for its silvery-leaved tall stature.

I once received a call from my brother. It went something like this: “Dude, I bought fava beans. What the [redacted]!”

Don’t get me wrong, he was excited. Who wouldn’t be what with the unzipping of the pod, freeing the tender bean and then undressing it of its silken sheath? But he was unprepared for the small pod-to-bean-yield ratio.

Let’s face it, certain joys require a little effort. Besides, people used to sit on front porches shelling peas and  sharing gossip, all without the aid of smart phones. If you think of shelling favas in this way, rather than as drudgery, you’ll be fine. A little jazz and a glass of chilled pinot gris while you work never hurts.

How to shell fava beans:

• Tear open the pod, revealing the embryo-like bean inside (The photo at left is an immature pod, which isn’t showing the white sheath that eventually forms.)

• Pop the beans into boiling water for 30 seconds then plunge into cold water. Slit the whitish sheath with a fingernail and slip the bright green bean from it.

• Roughly 2-3 lbs. of beans yields about 1 cup of beans.

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Recipe: Fava Bean Pesto

This has such a grassy, fresh taste that it’s a nice change from typical basil pesto. Don’t worry so much about amounts for this recipe—make it to taste. Feel free to experiment with different herbs—basil, thyme, mint or maybe a combination. You can add cheese or not.

• 1 cup fava beans (approx. 2 lbs. unshelled pods)
• 1–3 garlic cloves
• salt to taste
• 1/2 cup water
• 1/4 cup olive oil
• 1–2 teaspoons chopped fresh herbs
• 1 tablespoon lemon juice
• 2–3 tablespoons grated pecorino or parmesan cheese
• fresh ground pepper

1. Shell fava beans according to steps above.

2. Heat half the oil in a small saucepan. Add the beans and about 1/4 cup of the water and a good pinch of salt. Simmer till beans are tender, about 10–15 minutes. Add more water as necessary.

3. Smash beans a bit and then add garlic and fresh herbs. Cook a couple minutes more till the garlic and herbs release their aroma.

4. Transfer to a bowl. Allow to cool a bit and then stir in lemon juice, grated cheese and fresh ground pepper. Serve on your favorite toasted bread.

6 Responses

  1. I love pesto, and love fava beans! We grow them for exactly the reasons you say…fixing nitrogen to the soil, to have as one of the first crops of the spring/summer, and they’re yummy!! I’ll add this to my recipe list, thank you for posting!

      1. I have a fava salad that is fast, simple and amazing! It’s lemon, mint, almonds and parmesan. I also have a fava risotto on my blog, just posted it today. I have a feeling this pesto will be up there once I have the chance to try it.

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