Fava Beans: Double Your Work, Double Your Fun

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Maria Robledo


To try Sally's recipe for fresh fava beans with olive oil and sheep's milk cheese, click here.

Although I've tasted many wondrous dishes in my restaurant-going life, there is only one that I have felt compelled to order three times during the same meal, eating it as appetizer, main course, and dessert. Fresh fava beans, dressed with extra-virgin olive oil and a fine dice of young Pecorino cheese, were offered as a "special appetizer" one warm spring night at a Tuscan-style restaurant in New York City. My friend and I knew that such a dish is a rarity on restaurant menus because fava beans are work to prepare in quantity; they require both shucking and peeling."We'll start with the favas," we said, "and then figure out the rest."

We were stunned by that first simple dish of beans with their buttery, slightly bitter, "green" pea-like taste. So we ordered it for the next course, and then the next, without restraint or care for propriety. That was the dinner we needed. (When we returned the following evening hungering for more, we were told by our waiter that the favas were no longer available: "They were a losing proposition; the staff kept eating them ...")

This is the season for favas, and it's worth the effort to mine yourself and your loved ones a plateful. A fine solution to their laborious-in-quantity prep is to enlist friends to shuck and peel them during the "cocktail hour" before a meal, an old-fashioned and curiously satisfying communal activity. Once peeled, favas need only the barest embellishment: flavorful extra-virgin olive oil and shavings of a youngish sheep's milk cheese, like Pecorino, or Manchego, or Sally Jackson's sheep's milk variety from Washington state, OR Parmigiano Reggiano, the ultimate cow's milk cheese that seems to complement everything.

Shucked and boiled-until-just-tender English peas, soybeans, and chickpeas all revel in this treatment. (Frozen shelled soybeans, cooked until tender and drained, make a curiously pleasing everyday version.)

If you're a complete lazy dog, Mariquita Farm's website quotes chef Bruce Hill's (of Bix in San Francisco) method of grilling fava beans in their pods. "The heat of the coals will pop the pods open and split the hulls that wrap each bean. Remove the beans with your fingers and they're ready." (We'd try rubbing the pods lightly with oil before throwing them on the grill, then grill, turning, until charred in spots and opened ... Serve them with lemon wedges and still maybe shavings of Pecorino ... Or maybe GRILL the Pecorino, too ...)

Here's some solid info about buying fresh favas, and a possible allergic reaction to be aware of.

Recipe: Fresh Fava Beans (or Soybeans or Peas) with Pecorino or Parmigiano

Recent cooking columns by Sally Schneider:
Fresh Chickpeas: Green, Good, and in Season
Miso: Taste the Rainbow
Smokey and Malty, the Flavors of Finland

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Sally Schneider writes The Improvised Life, a lifestyle blog about improvising as a daily practice. Her cookbook The Improvisational Cook is now out in paperback. More

Sally Schneider is the founder of The Improvised Life, a lifestyle blog that inspires you to devise, invent, create, make it up as you go along, from design and cooking to cultivating the creative spirit. It's been called a "zeitgeist-perfect website." She is a regular contributor to public radio's The Splendid Table and the author of the best-selling cookbooks The Improvisational Cook and A New Way to Cook, which was recently named one of the best books of the decade by The Guardian. She has won numerous awards, including four James Beard awards, for her books and magazine writing.

Sally has worked as a journalist, editor, stylist, lecturer, restaurant chef, teacher, and small-space consultant, and once wrangled 600 live snails for the photographer Irving Penn. Her varied work has been the laboratory for the themes she writes and lectures about: improvising as an essential operating principle; cultivating resourcefulness and your inner artist; design, style, and food; and anything that is cost-effective, resourceful, and outside the box.
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