001: Fava Beans

I haven’t eaten fava beans in a long time. I mainly remember being sort of lukewarm towards them when I was a kid. The weird thing is, though, when I think about what they tasted like back then, I retroactively remember how good they were. They’re a labor-intensive food. I remember helping my dad squeeze them out of the hulls by the sink. I chose fava beans because I chose them for the header and figured the first post on the blog could be that obvious. I read that they’re a spring food, but then I also read that they’re a summer food, and then I read again that they’re a spring food, so whatever season they’re best in, hopefully it’s this one.

The menu (serves 4):

Fava bean gazpacho served with fava-garlic crostini

Fava bean, fennel and endive salad with grapefruit-lemongrass vinaigrette

Herb fettuccine with fava bean pesto, herb-roasted chicken, and sauteed fava beans

Apricot sorbet

Fava beans are a serious pain. I bought six pounds of beans for this menu, because you get roughly one cup of edible beans per pound of pods. So, the first thing you should do is prep the beans. I did this the night before so I wouldn’t have to deal with it the day of.

It took me about an hour to get all the beans out of the pods. I never worked out a really reliable way to get the pods open easily; the best I could do was hope that pulling the stem at the top would tear out the seams on the pod and unzip it. So, good luck. It’s easy, at least.

The next thing you do is boil a pot of water to briefly cook the beans in. The aim here is to get the bean’s hull or skin soft enough that you can open it and squeeze the bean out. I used a pasta pot with the removable basket so I could do batches quickly. This was a good idea because I really had a bad sense of when the beans were ready and ended up having to move the two batches between the cooling bath and the boiling pot multiple times.

Boil the beans until they have a little give when you poke them; that’s about as precise as I could get when I cooked them. When they feel ready, pour them into an ice bath. I put a colander in it, which, again, really helped me pull beans out and put them back in over and over like an idiot.

When you think the beans are done, try to get a bean out. Start at the little slit at one end, and try to tear the skin from there. Others will just squirt out when you squeeze an end, but the beans can be kind of fragile so don’t try too hard at that or you might mush some up.

Once the beans are cooked enough, get settled somewhere and get ready to have gross starchy fingers!

If you start about 20 minutes through Hellraiser, you should be done by the time the movie ends.

So, now you have about six cups of fava beans, and it only took you like two and a half hours! Put them in the fridge for tomorrow, or get going on cooking the food.

Fava Bean Gazpacho (recipe adapted from Mario Batali’s, found here)
-2 heaping cups fava beans
-4 slices baguette
-2 cloves garlic
-scant 1/4 cup olive oil
-1 cup chicken stock
-3 T sherry vinegar
-1/2 serrano chili
-1/2 cucumber
-1 medium tomato

Soak the baguette slices in a bowl of water for a couple minutes. It’s pretty gross, but it’s gonna get blended up soon, so just don’t think about it!
After the bread has soaked, put it, the beans, garlic, chili, olive oil, chicken stock and vinegar in the blender. Blend it up, on a coarser setting. Gazpacho is meant to be a little, uh, lumpy, whatever the appetizing word for that is. Taste it, add salt and pepper to taste, blend again, then pour it into a bowl or tupperware.


I put the bread in afterward when I did mine, for no particular reason. Next, chop up the tomato and cucumber into small cubes.


Stir the cubes into the gazpacho, then put the soup away in the fridge until a few minutes before you serve it.

Fava Bean, Fennel and Endive Salad with Grapefruit-Lemongrass Vinaigrette
-1 cup fava beans
-1 small fennel bulb
-1 red endive
Dressing – I improvised a lot on this and guessed at amounts but it’s from this recipe
-1/2 cup ruby grapefruit juice
-1/2 cup olive oil
-2 t honey
-salt and pepper to taste
-fresh thyme
-lemongrass

First of all, my fava beans really didn’t come out that good. So, I decided I should cook the beans a bit and chill them to serve in the salad. Saute with olive oil, 2 cloves of garlic, and some salt. Cook until the beans are tender and tasty.
Put the beans in a container, and chill until you’re putting the salad together.
My dressing came out pretty thin because I forgot to reduce the grapefruit juice. I wanted to thicken it up but I thought the olive oil taste was too strong already. If you want your dressing to come out better, put the honey and grapefruit juice in a saucepan and cook at medium-high heat, stirring judiciously until it’s a thick syrup.

Gordon Ramsay taught me to just snip thyme into dishes. For the lemongrass, peel away the woody sheath so that you’re left with a scallion-like stem. Slice it up, then mince.  Mix it, along with all the other ingredients, into the dressing.

Cut the leaves and stuff off the top of the fennel bulb, and slice it as thin as possible. If you have a mandoline slicer, use that.

Pour 2/3 of the dressing into a bowl, and toss the fennel slices in. Let it sit for at least an hour. When you’re getting ready to serve dinner, pull leaves off the endive and arrange them on the plate. Divide up the fava beans into four servings, and scatter them over the arrangement, then put the marinated fennel on top. When the plate is set up, pour some of the remaining dressing over the salad.

Herb Fettuccine with Fava Bean Pesto, Herb-Roasted Chicken, and Sauteed Fava Beans
I’ve never made pasta before, so obviously my pasta came out kind of weird. I used a simple recipe.
Pasta
-1 1/3 cup flour
-1 egg, lightly beaten
-water
-salt
Pesto
-1/2 cup fava beans
-2 cloves garlic
-large handful of fresh basil leaves
-olive oil
-parmesan cheese
-salt
Chicken
-2 chicken breasts
-thyme
-basil
-oregano
-mint
-ground cumin
-olive oil
-salt
First, the chicken. Chop up all of the oregano and mint, a couple stems of basil, and some snips of thyme. Salt the chicken, powder it with cumin, and sprinkle it with herbs (make sure there’s at least a quarter of the herbs left). Turn it over, same thing. Put the chicken in a ziploc, pour in some olive oil, and shake it up. Chill it in the fridge for a few hours. When you start making the pasta, turn the broiler on, and throw the chicken in for about 5 minutes a side. Pull it out, let it cool, then cut it up into small cubes. Set them aside.
For the pasta, mix the salt and flour in a bowl. Make a little well in the center of the mound of flour, and pour the beaten egg in. Mix it up, throw in a few big pinches of the herb mix, and get the dough put together. You’ll likely need to add some water. I made the recipe for four instead of 3 and so I was supposed to use an additional 1/3 of a beaten egg, but didn’t. If you were to do that, maybe it’d work better than mine did?

You’ll end up with a stiff dough that shouldn’t be sticky or “doughy” like bread dough.
The photos of rolling out the pasta got lost, but: assuming you have a pasta maker, use the pasta maker. If you don’t, it’s also fairly simple.
Lay the pasta out on a rack of some kind so that the strands don’t stick together while you get the water ready. Once the water’s boiling, cook the pasta for 2-4 minutes. Aim for a wiggly noodle, then taste test it to see if it’s cooked enough.

For the pesto, just mix all the ingredients in the food processor, and blend it up. Taste test it between each grind, and add whatever it needs. Start with a good glug of olive oil; the pesto should come out looking pretty mealy and dry. Just keep adding it in tablespoon-sized amounts, and you’ll eventually reach the right consistency.

More cheese always helps, and you may want more basil to balance out the fava beans. Go easy on the salt at first.
So, now you have all the components for the pasta ready. Heat a large pan with olive oil. When it’s hot, pour in 2 cups of fava beans. Salt them, and saute for a few minutes. Add the chicken cubes, and a glop of pesto. Stir it up to coat them. Throw the pasta in, with another big thing of pesto. Toss with tongs to coat.

The pasta is done!
Just two more recipes.

Fava-Garlic Crostini
-12 slices baguette
-1 cup fava beans
-2 cloves garlic
-olive oil
-1/4 red bell pepper
-2 oz grated gruyere cheese
-rosemary
Preheat oven to 400.
Blend the garlic and fava beans with some olive oil. It should be a similar color to the gazpacho, and have a creamy, but grainy, texture.
Cut the bell pepper into strips, and then chop into very small cubes. Heat olive oil and salt in a small pan, and saute the pepper cubes until they’re soft.

Spread the fava-garlic butter onto the baguette slices, sprinkle the cheese on top, then place a few pepper cubes near the center. Put them in the oven once it’s up to heat, and leave them in until the cheese is melted. Try to have these done around the time you start serving dinner, as they’re much better hot.

When you serve dinner, place the crostini on top of the gazpacho in a fancy restaurant pattern and make sure to take a better photo than this:

Apricot Sorbet 

-2 lbs apricots
-1 cup water
-1 cup sugar
-vanilla extract
-ice cream maker

Cut open the apricots and remove the pits. Cut up the fruit roughly, just to get it compact and fit into a medium saucepan. Pour the water in, and cook the mixture on medium, covered, until the fruit is all mushy. Stir occasionally. The recipe I used says to stir the sugar in after the fruit is off the heat, but I’d probably mix it in while it’s still cooking because I got a lot of melted sugar on the bottom of the pot that didn’t come out with the fruit. Anyway, add the sugar at some point. Pour the mixture into the blender, and add a couple drops of vanilla. Liquefy it, then chill before putting it in an ice cream maker (not pictured).

Report

This was a mixed bag. The gazpacho, crostini, and sorbet were great. The gazpacho was perfectly spicy, refreshing, and generally just very good. I would definitely make it again. The crostini were the same; the fava-garlic butter turned out very nice, perfect for what I used it for. While the sorbet gave me a lot of trouble (the ice cream maker I intended to use was broken and the one I was forced to turn to didn’t have enough time to work properly), it ended up with a pleasant texture and a wonderful, fragrant flavor. At the same time, I would have preferred to use the apricot stuff on a lemon-bar-type baked good instead of a sorbet, because it kind of lost something when it was really cold. However, making sorbet is incredibly easy, and I’ll be doing that more often.

On the negatives, the salad wasn’t great. The fennel was very nice, and the dressing worked well with the dish, but the fava beans were subpar and the endive was WAY more bitter than I’d imagined (I think maybe I’d never had it?) I used it mainly for the color, but it would have worked better with arugula or something. The pasta didn’t turn out well. I’d never made homemade long pasta, and it really showed. It had an okay flavor, but stayed a little stiff (though it had the right al dente consistency). Dry pasta would have worked a lot better. In addition, I wanted a more fluid pesto, for a sloppier pasta dish, as gross as that sounds, so I should have used more liquid in it.

So basically, my conclusion is that I still don’t like fava beans. If I practiced more with them, I might, but it’s so much effort to cook with them at all that it’s not going to happen very often. They just added an unpleasant aspect to every dish they were in. The gazpacho was good, but had a distinctive fava bean aftertaste. The crostini’s spread was delicious, but had the texture from chopped-up beans. The salad didn’t really benefit from the beans. The pasta actually did a decent job showcasing the beans, but was a failure overall. I had much bigger plans for the pasta, but as is, it came out as a bad pesto dish.

I was a bit overambitious. I’d never cooked fava beans, never made pasta, never made sorbet, never used endive. Despite that, this was a fun set of dishes. I had a good time planning it out, putting it together and everything. I also had a pretty solid workflow, which was a neat thing to notice. This is basically what this blog is for; to experiment with and learn new ingredients and dishes. So, while the food was inconsistent, this was a successful installment.

Next week: Summer Squash

Leave a comment

2 Comments

  1. Julie

     /  June 11, 2012

    The crostini were fabulous!

    Reply
  2. Hellraiser as a fava-bean-shelling timer is inspired.

    Reply

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