Fava beans were eaten in ancient Greece and Rome and are one of the oldest plants under cultivation. Despite the name, fava beans (from the Italian word fava, meaning "broad bean") are actually a member of the pea family. Fava beans have a distinct flavor and creamy texture that makes them a great addition to a wide variety of dishes.
Favas are high in fiber and iron, and low in sodium and fat. They have no cholesterol but so much protein that they are called the” meat of the poor.” As a matter of fact, Italians credit the fava bean as the key factor in saving the Sicilians from starvation during a great famine. Since then, the fava has been considered good luck; in fact some people believe that if you carry a fava bean, you will never be without life’s essentials.
Fava beans should be shelled and peeled before eating. The outer peel on the beans, while technically edible, is very woody in texture and detracts from the buttery taste of the inner bean. Fava beans can be served fried and salted, mashed, or added to hearty stews and soups. We love to eat them simply boiled and tossed with olive oil, mint and cheese. Sometimes the guys don’t even wait for the >mint and cheese, popping them down like beer nuts.
- 4 cups shucked fresh fava beans
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 2 tablespoons finely chopped mint
- ½ cup Parm or Romano cheese, shaved
- Salt and pepper to taste
Start by removing the beans from the large green pods. Then blanch beans in a large saucepan in plenty of salted boiling water until tender, about 3 to 5 minutes, depending on the size of the beans and number in the pot. This will soften the outer shell for easy removal. Drain well and rinse with cold water to cool. This prevents overcooking and mushiness, as well as makes the skin easier to remove from the favas.
Once cool enough to handle, use a paring knife to pierce and peel away the outer grayish-white, waxy shells of beans revealing the bright green bean inside. Place shelled peeled beans in a bowl. Drizzle beans with olive oil, season with salt and pepper, add mint and toss gently to mix. Place beans in a serving dish and top with the grated cheese. You can also use a vegetable peeler to shave slices of Parmesan-Reggiano cheese making large “curls” to garnish the salad in place of the grated cheese. These dress the dish up for company!
Favas are also delicious served mashed. Following the instructions above blanch and peel favas, and mash beans adding butter and a splash of cream. We also add one boiled potato to the bean mash to improve the consistency (and stretch the beans!)
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