Fava beans are sprouting in everyone’s gardens! Yea, these protein filled little fellows make a yummy dinner. Last year, when the fava beans kept gracing my doorway, it was the first time that I had ever seen a fresh one. Well, maybe I did when nonna was alive and had the garden the size of a campo di calcio (soccer field) – but I don’t remember.
Seriously, this is a question that merits exploration. How many bags of fava beans are there in Pontelandolfo? When people pop in after pranza for caffè they usually bring something to share – like what ever is growing in the garden or was baked that morning. Now me, I like the “what was baked” this morning – no fuss, no muss, just yummy delight. My neighbor, Zia Vittoria, has an incredible garden. It is chock full of every vegetable you could possibly imagine – including fava beans.
Yet, as other women pop in to visit Zia Vittoria, so do giant bags of fava beans. H’mm when women visited these women they too brought fava beans. One day it hit me. What if there was really only a finite number of bags of fava beans and in any given span of two days the same 15 bags got re-gifted from house to house.
The bags stop here! Well, when a bag appears on my door step I don’t re-gift it. I say “guess whose coming to dinner.” Last year Mr. Fava came often. The top picture is of my first bag of this season. I pulled out the colander, a knife and a bag for the compost pile. The sky was blue and I cheerily began popping beans out of the pod.
So there I am shelling beans and wondering how I was going to cook them when my nipote (Italian for any kid in your family that you are related to and older than) popped by, reached into the bag, ripped open the pod and tossed the beans in his mouth. RAW! Who knew! I was forced to try it – I mean I’ll taste just about anything. The bean was sweetly good and obviously picked this morning. I discovered that the day they are picked they are deleeeeesh as a salad – tossed with tuna or just a few slices of onion or whatever you can imagine. That is also an abundantly easy lunch or dinner.
I kept at the de-podding for a while. My brain taking journeys back to the early seventies when with my long hair braided, I shelled beans, baked bread, grew sprouts and didn’t inhale. It seems to me that it used to be fun. This ain’t fun but it is worthwhile.
One of the things I remembered while I was mindlessly popping beans, was an article in the New York Times that I read last year. A snotty assed food writer had gone to Rome. ordered fava beans in a restaurant and was appalled that they weren’t peeled! I had no idea what the hell Miss little anal retentive was talking about. In all the homes I’ve visited for pranza, all the fava bean stew, soup, frittata I’ve eaten, no one peeled off the outer shell. I was taught to par- boil the beans before creating the dish. Apparently, after this par-boiling part you can take off the outer shell. Hell lady, I just spent an hour popping pods and now you want me to spend two hours popping par-boiled beans?
I caved and decided to try it. After boiling the beans and dumping them in the ever faithful colander, I burnt my fingers trying to pop them out of their little shells. What? Wait till they cool? What a thought! Ten minutes is the maximum of waiting time I give anything. I popped a few and tasted them. Damn, it did make a taste difference. They tasted sweeter and less meaty than they do with the shells on. I looked at the bowl of about a pazillion beans and I looked at Jack. He gave me the “are you crazy” look – no one here takes the shells off. When in Rome……
Without skinning the par-boiled beans, I made a simple recipe. First I sautéd a couple of large onions in local olive oil, toss in cubes of pancetta and let that all get caramelized and crispy. I always buy un etto of cubed pancetta – 100 grams – so that is probably what I used. H’mm, from all the veggie tops and pieces I had languishing around, I made vegetable broth yesterday. I tossed some broth in the pan, added the beans, a dollop of red wine – this is Italy – and let it simmer. That and crusty bread made a perfect “cena.”
What’s that outside my door? FAVA!