without great culturally italian elders in my family, i missed out on fava beans growing up. recipes for fava beans can be confusing, because they usually don’t specify which to use, and the beans are very different when fresh vs. dried, so my first experience with shelling cooked dried favas left me utterly confused. this week i went looking for something interesting for seasonal eats, and just before i fell back on a staple like radishes, i noticed a few sellers with fava beans and decided to conquer this curiosity. turns out, other than taking a little time, they’re really easy to work with raw, and as i’ve learned, some of the best beans using dried favas call for them pureed without shelling. alright then!
while there are some recipes where you can use the beans in the shells, pods & all, such as grilling, usually you’ll be cracking one end of the pod, pulling it apart along the seam, and popping out the fava beans. the shells are fixed to the beans at this point, but a quick parboil will separate them, so you can pinch one end with your fingernail, squeeze the other and pop out the bean. at this point, if you want to eat them raw, they have a fresh, nutty flavor and would go great in a bean salad or with a light dressing.
i decided to use as many spring flavors as i have in the house while keeping with italian flavors, and modified a fava bean & fennel saute to be vegetarian. the original recipe called for pancetta, which would be a great addition, as would sausage or bacon, or even a smaller quantity of anchovies.
fresh fava & fennel saute
3 lbs fava beans, shelled
3 tb olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
1 fresh fennel bulb, sliced
1 tsp fennel seeds
1.5 cups vegetable broth, heated to a simmer
zest and juice of 1 lemon
salt & pepper to taste, finishing salt to serve
saute onion and fennel in a large pan on med-high, 5 minutes. add fava beans and fennel seeds and toss to mix thoroughly. add vegetable broth and simmer 10 minutes.
turn off the heat, add lemon juice and half the lemon zest and season with salt and pepper to taste. to serve, garnish with remaining lemon zest and finishing salt of your choice. serves 4.