That is a huge green been! No silly, it is a fava bean.
Ah, the fava bean. My assumption is that most of us in the Midwest have never cooked with a fava bean. Perhaps our only point of reference is hearing about them being eaten with a nice Chianti.
I was in Gateway Market the other day in search of some dutch processed cocoa powder and I spotted these delightful beans in the produce section. Food geek moment I know…
I was first exposed to fava beans on our trip to Italy last year. While in Tuscany we had a day with Chef Barbara. She gave me a wonderful recipe for a fava appetizer. When she first started talking about buying these beans I wasn’t impressed, because I loathe lima beans. Although, I honestly didn’t know the difference. I remember eating lima beans in “hot dishes” growing up and absolutely hated the mealy texture. However, when in Rome (Florence) I was willing to discover new things and try to get over my food aversion. We made this tasty appetizer and I was in love. The fava beans were not mealy at all, but sweet and tender.
When you first peel back the bean you will see these little pods lying in a soft velvety inner lining.
These beans are huge. As you can see with the size of my thumb.
They have an outer shell which you can eat, but for this recipe we are only looking for the sweet inside part of the bean. The beans need to be blanched for a few minutes in water to soften the shell to extract the more tender bean inside.
The recipe calls for Pecorino Romano cheese. This is a salty, sheep’s milk cheese from Italy, one of the oldest cheeses in the country’s history dating back to Roman times.
In Tuscany, the saltiness of the cheese is needed to balance the dish due to Tuscan bread being made with no salt. In this version I just used an Italian bread I purchased from the market which was made with salt. If you can find Tuscan bread, excellent. If not, just use a crusty dense bread from your local bakery. If the salt is an issue overall, you probably want to re-think the Pecorino. Perhaps trying a Parmigiano Reggiano or talk to your cheesemonger for a suitable substitute.
The inside of the bean after it was blanched and peeled.
All of the beans after being blanched and peeled.
The favas, cubed pecorino, olive oil, salt, and pepper with some finely chopped mint. Mix together.
Cut the bread into quarter or half-inch slices and toast in the oven about 350 for a few minutes until golden. Be sure to set a timer so you do not burn your bread.
Once the bread is warm and toasted, remove from the oven and apply the fava mix on top. The heat from the bread will warm the favas and start to melt the cheese.
The sweet beans, paired with the salty cheese, mint, and olive oil on top of the hot bread is heaven. A great appetizer for a spring Italian dinner party.
P.S. I still do not like lima beans.