The Ancient Fava Bean

It was with great anticipation that a week ago, Monday, June 24th, fava bean season commenced.  I announce this with the same enthusiasm as an avid baseball fan may have for the start of spring training or a veteran cyclist may have for the start of the Tour de France.   Excitement filled the farm air as I gleefully exclaimed, bean pod in hand, that, “The fava beans are ready to harvest!”.  A true spring delicacy, chefs long for them.  Buttery in texture, sweet up front, and slightly earthy on the finish, these beans are the crux upon which late spring/early summer cuisine should rest.  Sadly, they are still somewhat unknown to the American home cook; however, eager as I am of their arrival, I am here to change this.

This is our first time in three years planting fava beans at Aspen Moon Farm.  Finding seed for this crop can be a challenge and is often sold out by the time we normally do our seasonal ordering.  This year, though, we ordered this seed ahead of the others and now have four-200 foot long beds established with these bushy plants.  One of the oldest cultivated crops, dating back to 6000 BC, fava beans are native to North Africa and South/Southwest Asia, but remain most popular in Mediterranean and Middle Eastern cooking.  With several other common names, fava  is Italian for “broad bean”, the term these green pods are best known for in the United Kingdom and Australia.  Nutritionally, they are rich in protein (packing 12.9 grams of protein per cup), fiber, iron, Vitamins A and C, and potassium.

A member of the vetch family, fava beans serve another agricultural purpose for us at the farm in that they are great nitrogen fixers, meaning that, like other peas and legumes, they utilize the nitrogen in the air to replenish the soil with this vital nutrient.  While fava beans can be used as a cover crop, this is not our intention at Aspen Moon Farm.  We prefer to enjoy these delicate spring gems either grilled in their pods drizzled with olive oil, lemon and sea salt, or peeled from their double pod by, first, removing the pillowy, pale green outer pod, and, then, blanching each bean in boiling salt water for 1-2 minutes and popping them out of their shell.

Last year, while visiting a farm in the Central Coast area of California, I harvested fava beans, and became enamored with a very simple and fresh use of them in a pasta dish, much like this one (adapted from the NY Times):

2 1/2 pounds fava beans, shelled and skinned

Salt

3/4 pound spaghetti

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1/2 cup fresh bread crumbs, preferably whole wheat

1 to 2 tablespoons fresh marjoram (to taste)

Freshly ground black pepper

Freshly grated Parmesan or pecorino (or a combination) for serving

1. Bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil over high heat. Salt generously, and add the spaghetti. After five minutes, add the skinned favas. Cook over high heat, stirring occasionally so the pasta doesn’t stick together, until al dente, about 10 minutes.

2. Meanwhile, in a small skillet, heat the olive oil over medium heat, then add the bread crumbs, marjoram, salt and pepper. Cook, stirring, until crispy, three to four minutes. Turn off the heat, and set aside.

3. When the pasta is cooked al dente, remove 1/2 cup of the cooking water and transfer to a large serving bowl. Drain the pasta and fava beans, and add to the bowl. Add the bread crumb mixture, toss together and serve, passing the cheese at the table

Also, enjoy them in a pasta lightly s

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