Fava beans with their fuzzy and floppy outer pods and strange green beans have been intriguing to me for quite a while. I've seen them on restaurant menus and even in farmers' markets, but I've yet to see them in supermarkets. Because of their rarity in the States, favas are snapped right up by shoppers when they become avaialble during summer. From my first encounter with favas at Le Zie, a quaint trattoria focusing on Northern Italian cuisine, I've come to enjoy their buttery texture, slight bitter taste, and nutty flavor.
The name fava is Italian, but the beans are not just an Italian vegetable as many may assume. In English-speaking countries, favas are also known as broad beans. The beans are a staple in many cultures throughout Africa, Asia, and Europe, and along with chickpeas, lentils, and peas date back to ancient times. The beans can be enjoyed either fresh and raw or cooked from fresh or from dried. A trip to the Union Square Greenmarket about a week ago yielded me the freshest and most beautiful fava beans, which I decided to use in this salad inspired by the one I tried at the restaurant.
Fava beans are an unusual legume: Not only do they have a thick cushioney outer pod, but each bean is surrounded by a thin skin that needs to be peeled before eating. The beans can be peeled raw, but the best way to peel favas is by blanching them in boiling water for a few minutes. Peeling them becomes much easier and the beans take on a bright green hue. The beans can then be added to salads, cooked with other vegetables for a side dish, or smashed for use as a topping on bruschetta. Here I serve the salad with grilled bread for a light summer appetizer that's full in flavor and varied in texture. For those who haven't tried favas, it's a bean that you will come to love in many different preparations.
Fava Bean Salad with Radishes and Pecorino
4 cups shucked fava beans
3 tablespoons lemon juice
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
coarse sea salt
freshly ground black pepper
6 ounces radishes, thinly sliced
4 ounces Pecorino Romano cheese, thinly shaved
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add fava beans and cook until just tender, 2 to 3 minutes. Drain and shock in ice water. Remove outer skins and place beans on paper towels to drain.
In a small bowl, combine the lemon juice and olive oil; whisk until blended. Season with salt and pepper. Pour the vinaigrette over the beans, radishes, and cheese. Lightly toss to combine. Yield: 4 servings.