The return of fava beans, the dinosaur-looking, rather ugly shelling bean, to the market is a sure sign of spring. Fava bean season is ridiculously short, and during fava bean season you will find me in front of the television doing the tedious work to clean the beans as often as I can. Unlike some who find the work to prepare them to not be worth it, I personally find the nutty, sweet, unique flavor of a fresh fava bean to be worth every moment of work.
Favas come in a rather large pod from which they must be released. Once pulled from the outer pod, each bean has an inner pod that is usually peeled off as well (some recipes call for some of the shells to stay on for the bitterness that they impart). Most people remove the inner pod with a quick blanch — 30 to 60 seconds in boiling water and then dropped into ice water — however I find it nearly as easy to peel the pods raw with my hand or a small knife. I started this method after reading the Zuni Cafe Cookbook, in which Judy Rodgers tells us that the quick blanch changes the texture of the fava bean.
While I am not sure of the exact yield of the fava bean, casual observation finds the yield to be about 1/2 cup of edible beans per pound.
Fava beans do really well when little is done to adulterate the flavor. “The less you do tho them, the more beautiful they are,” says chef Jody Adams. “I feel they are one of those foods that should be treated with almost ritualistic simplicity.” Favas can be eaten raw in a salad, sauteed, added to a risotto, pureed, or put into soup among other things. The photo you see above is of a side dish I made this weekend — I quickly sauteed the peeled favas in olive oil (only 2-3 minutes), added salt, tossed with mint, and then added pecorino romano once the dish had cooled a bit. It was addictively good, and a great addition to an already full table of spring treats.
If you’ve never had fava beans, please heed this warning (taken from Vegetables from Amaranth to Zucchini): “Fava beans should be avoided by anyone taking antidepressents of the MAO-inhibitor type. In addition, the beans can cause sever anemia in a small number of people of Mediterranean origin (and some Africans, Arabs and Asians) who suffer from glucose-6-phosphate dehydrogenase deficiency, an inherited imbalance. One hopes they know who they are before they sit down to your table.”