Have you ever tasted fresh fava beans? They are nothing like their frozen counterparts, which are usually mealy and not very sweet. And they are nothing like dried fava beans, which, although delicious and earthy in flavor, are neither vibrant in color (they turn a delicate yellow-ochre when dried) nor flavor (they mellow and become far more “beany” when dried).
This is the season to taste fresh fava beans, and my husband and I have been gorging on them since April. We love them plain, boiled briefly and seasoned with olive oil, salt, and pepper; sautéed with bacon and onions as a simple sauce for pasta; transformed into a soothing, creamy soup with a sprinkling of dill upon serving; or, as below, slow-cooked with scallions, mint, and lettuce. The latter is a technique you can also use with fresh shucked peas, which are just coming into season.
Look for fresh fava beans with unblemished, stiff, heavy pods. The brighter colored pods indicate sweeter beans. Try to buy them the day you plan to cook them, as they will be even sweeter if they never see the inside of the refrigerator. If you are feeling particularly industrious, you can shell, boil, and shuck fava beans in large quantities for freezing; place in freezer-safe plastic bags and freeze for up to 1 year, and your frozen fava beans are sure to be endlessly better than store-bought frozen fava beans.
Serves 2 as a side dish
- 1 and 1/2 pounds fresh fava beans
- 1 tablespoon plus 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
- 2 scallions, white and green parts, thinly sliced
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 1/2 cup water
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 12 mint leaves
- 4 leaves Boston lettuce, washed, dried, and cut into slivers
Shell the beans and rinse them thoroughly. Bring 2 quarts of water to a boil and add 1 tablespoon of the salt. Boil the beans for 3 minutes, or until they look wrinkly and have softened a bit. Don’t be alarmed if the boiling water looks a bit dark, as this is completely normal. Drain and rinse under cool running water to stop the cooking, then drain again. Slip off the thick papery skin from each bean (this is shucking, and is necessary for the beans to be edible, as the skins are very fibrous).
Place the olive oil, scallions, and garlic in a 10-inch sauté pan. Warm over medium heat until the scallions soften, about 5 minutes, stirring as needed. Stir in the shucked fava beans, pour in 1/2 cup of water, and cover. Cook over medium heat 10 minutes, stirring once in a while and adding a bit of water as needed to maintain a bit of moisture in the pan. The fava beans should never dry out completely. If the beans are still crunchy, cook a little longer, covered; they should be crisp-tender, not hard, when done.
Uncover the pan and stir in the remaining 1/2 teaspoon of salt and the pepper. Add the mint and lettuce, stir well, and cook 1 minute, or until the lettuce wilts. Taste for seasoning and adjust as needed. Serve hot, warm, or at room temperature.