Monday, May 5, 2008

Fava beans

OK, so I didn't grow fava beans in my garden this year, and in fact I've never grown them. I considered it this year, but I couldn't find seeds, and I didn't really have a lot of space. Maybe I'll try it next year.

Nonetheless, I like fava beans. They're absolutely delicious, meaty and buttery and just oh so good. The real problem with fava beans is that they are a pain in the @$$ to prepare. You have to shell the beans from the pods, and then peel them. That's right, it's actually a two-step process. I finally learned a good way of doing it last year, only to forget exactly how it worked this year. So after my experience last night, I'm going to chronicle it for future generations (or at least future versions of myself).

I seemed to remember that last year I steamed the entire pod, rather than shelling the beans first, like all my resources said to do. I did manage to find one website that referred to someone steaming the pods for 5 minutes before shelling, but it was downplayed as a stupid thing to do. But I did it anyway. I thought I had done it for longer than 5 minutes last year, but who was I to argue. After 5 minutes, I pulled out a pod, split it open, and cut the tip of the bean, splitting the skin and popping it out. Seemed ok.

Actually, in retrospect, I think that 5 minutes isn't long enough. The problem is that if you overcook the beans, they get mushy, and they're really hard to peel. If you undercook the beans, the skins don't really separate, and they're really hard to peel. If you steam them just the right amount, then after you pop the beans out of the pods, you can use your fingernail to peel back a bit of the skin and squeeze them gently, and they pop right out. It probably helps to move the beans around a bit while they're steaming, so they steam more evenly. But I think I learned my lesson: Don't ever buy fresh fava beans again. Just kidding! Seriously, though, I think steaming them for closer to 10 minutes is the way to go.

Anyway, I wish I had taken a picture of the dinner I made last night, but I didn't. I made a fava bean risotto that was honestly quite good, but maybe not worth all the bean frustrations. But here's the recipe, anyway.

Fava Bean Risotto

1 onion, chopped finely
3 cups arborio rice
Olive oil
Some wine
Vegetable broth (about 7-8 cups)
Fresh fava beans, shelled and peeled using the above method
Chopped basil
Some butter and/or cream

Bring the broth to a boil, then let simmer on the stove. If the fava beans aren't quite cooked from their steaming, go ahead and boil them a few minutes in the broth, then remove and reserve for later.

Saute the onion in the olive oil in a large pot over medium heat, for about 5 or 10 minutes, depending on how much you want to caramelize them ( to taste). Add the rice, and stir to coat with oil (add more oil if necessary). Saute for a few minutes. Then add the wine - about 1/2 cup to 1 cup. Stir while the rice absorbs the wine. Start adding broth one ladle-full at a time, stirring gently while the wine absorbs the liquid. Continue until the rice is almost cooked, about 25-35 minutes. Start to taste for doneness. Stir in the fava beans, basil, butter, and cream. Taste for doneness, and add salt if necessary.

Serve hot, and pass the parmesan at the table.

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