Down East 2013 ©
The garden this year feels a lot like life. For two solid months it rained and was cold and pretty miserable. The ground soaked up all that moisture like a thirsty child. Then July hit and with it came extreme heat (it was over 90 yesterday), humidity, and not a speck of moisture. Everything started to grow in double-time, looking plentiful, but quite parched.
What’s the expression: when it rains it pours? Sometimes life, like gardening, is full of clouds and other times it just beams down more sun than you can take. Aaah, to find a happy medium!
The good news is that, for the first time ever, I have a gorgeous crop of fava beans. If you’ve never eaten, or grown, favas they are a treat on many fronts: the tall, bean-like plants develop tiny white flowers, tingled with a purple streak (almost like miniature orchids) and then the thick, long green fava beans emerge. Favas are used quite a bit in Italian cuisine, in salads, dips, and pasta dishes and simply for snacking.
My first experience eating fava beans was magical. I was served the young, tender beans raw and dipped into sea salt with slices of lightly buttered, crusty French bread. Their buttery texture and fresh-from-the-earth flavor struck me as one of the purest foods I had ever experienced. I was traveling through southern France and met up with an old friend, food writer Martha Rose Shulman . She knew the owners of the fabulous Domaine Tempier Vineyard . The pale pink rose that Domaine Tempier produces can forever change anyone’s mind about rose. Theirs is as interesting and nuanced as any red or white. A perfect chilled summer wine. We sat on creaky, oversized cast iron outdoor “beds,” strewn with oversized pillows covered in Provencal fabrics, overlooking the symmetry of row upon row of grapes, the late afternoon sun beating down on us. As we sipped the perfect rose, I learned to peel favas. I thought it was the most thrilling, most exotic kitchen chore I had ever been given!
The only trick to working with fresh fava beans is that they need to be shelled twice. Yes, I know this sounds tedious, but trust me, it’s worth the extra five or ten minutes of your life. Grab a basket, sit under the shade of a tree or somewhere with a good Maine view, and remove the tender pods from the shell. Go inside and bring a few inches of water to boil over high heat and steam the beans for about 4 minutes. Remove the beans with a slotted spoon and place in a bowl of ice cold water. You can then use your hands to easily peel off the thin outer coating of the beans. Inside you’ll find a buttery, tender, slightly nutty-tasting fava, or what the English call broad beans, ready to be steamed, stir fried, sautéed, or pureed.
Look for fava beans at farmer’s markets and specialty food shops. It’s not too late in much of Maine to put in your own crop if you have a nice warm patch of garden leftover. Fava beans marry well with peas, mint, buttery lettuces as well as hard cheeses and crusty breads. Open a well-chilled bottle of wine and start peeling. You won’t be sorry.
Fava Bean and Pea Salad with Feta Cubes and Mint-Lemon Vinaigrette
This is a sophisticated little summer salad — refreshing and full of bright, vibrant flavors. You can make the salad several hours ahead of time and add the lemon and olive oil just before serving.
About 1 1/2 pounds fava beans, or 1 cup shelled beans
About 1 pound snap peas
½ cup feta cheese, cut into small cubes
2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint
2 ½ tablespoons lemon juice
¼ cup olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper
Shell the fava beans. Bring a pot of water to boil. Add the fava beans and cook 4 minutes. Have a bowl of ice water ready and remove the fava beans from the boiling water with a slotted spoon. Add to the ice water immediately and let sit for a minute or two. Use your fingers to remove the outer shell on the fava beans and set the beans aside.
Remove the string from the peas. If you have any fat, overgrown peas remove the peas from the shells.
Place the fava beans and any of the fatter shelled peas in the center of a serving plate. Arrange the peas around the beans and place the feta cubes along the outside of the plate. Scatter the mint on top of everything and then drizzle with the lemon juice and the olive oil. Sprinkle with pepper and salt, if needed. Serves 2 to 4.