We’ve all heard the old joke from The Silence of the Lambs, but fava beans go with more than a nice Chianti. Vicia faba, also known as the broad bean, tic bean, field bean and bell bean is a versatile spring vegetable.
Known for the long thick pods lined with a soft fluff, splitting open a fava bean is like opening a jewel box to find your dinner presented on a bed of velvet. For many dishes the skin of the beans itself needs to be removed (making them slightly unpopular with impatient cooks), but it’s worth the effort. Some people experience a reaction to the raw or uncooked beans, so favas should always be cooked completely.
The plant is a hardy one, able to withstand cold temperatures and salinity in its soil. They grow quickly and have lush foliage, making them an ideal cover crop. Favas are also considered nitrogen fixers, adding this important nutrient back to the soil.
Favas are eaten in many cultures from Asian to the Middle East to Europe and Northern Africa. They can be fried and served as a snack, added to soup and stews, tossed with pasta or served as a topping on bread or toast. The most famous fava dish has to be the Egyptian dish ful medames, where the dried beans are stewed and mashed and then blended with lemon, olive oil and spices and served with bread and an egg, typically for breakfast.
Saute of Fresh Fava Beans, Onions, and Fennel from Bon Apetit
3 lb fresh fava beans shelled
1/3 cup olive oil
1 cup chopped onion
1 fresh fennel bulb trimmed, sliced
1 teaspoon fennel seeds coarsely ground with a spice grinder
1 1/3 cup canned low-salt chicken broth more or less
4 tablespoon chopped fresh dill
1/2 cup chopped pancetta
1/2 teaspoon dried savoury
2 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
Salt to taste
Freshly-ground black pepper to taste
Cook fava beans in boiling salted water 2 minutes. Drain, cool and peel outer skins.
Heat oil in heavy large skillet over medium-high heat. Add onion and fennel bulb; saute 5 minutes. Add favas or lima beans and fennel seeds; saute 3 minutes. Add 1 cup broth and 2 tablespoons dill; bring to boil. Reduce heat; simmer 10 minutes to blend flavors.
Stir in pancetta and savoury, adding more broth if mixture is dry. Simmer until favas are tender, about 15 minutes longer.
Mix in lemon juice and 2 tablespoons dill. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve warm or at room temperature. (Can be made 2 days ahead. Cover and chill. Bring to room temperature before serving.)
Fava Bean Bruschetta
1 cup fava beans, hulled
6 Roma or other flavourful tomato, seeded and cut into 8ths
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 Tbsp minced garlic
salt and pepper to taste
juice of half a lemon
2 Tbsp fresh oregano or basil
Preheat oven to 400°F. Blanche the fava beans in boiling water for 4 minutes, then refresh with cold water, drain and set aside. Gently toss the tomatoes with the olive oil, salt and pepper, and garlic. Place the seeded tomatoes in a baking pan, and roast for about 15 minutes. Meanwhile remove the skins from the fava beans. Add the beans to the tomatoes, stirring gently to ensure the tomatoes don’t stick. Roast for another 5 minutes or so until the beans are warmed through.
Remove the beans and tomatoes to a bowl and add a squeeze of lemon, plus the oregano or basil. Mix well, mashing the beans slightly. Check for seasonings and adjust as necessary. Spoon onto on slices of toasted Italian bread and serve.