In one of the more (most?) famous lines from The Silence of the Lambs, Hannibal Lecter tells Clarice, “I ate his liver with some fava beans and a nice Chianti.” A lot of attention has been paid to this line — both because of the human liver and the indescribable slurping noises Anthony Hopkins makes immediately following. Not so much attention for the fava beans, which are just slipped in there as a side dish. But if any FBI profiler had actually cooked fava beans him or herself, they would know that those beans show just as much about Dr. Lecter as his penchant for cannibalism.
In other words: you have to be damn patient and meticulous to eat you some fava beans.
Fava beans are tricky — I would venture to say even trickier than artichokes, which Kevin wrote about last week. There is peeling, and then blanching, and then more peeling, all to gain a small-ish green bean. But oh, the wonders of that green bean. They are incredibly buttery, in both texture and flavor, and shockingly green. And, fun fact: they are probably the “magic beans” of Jack in the Beanstalk fame.
But the magic beans don’t come easy, so they’re best saved for either a somewhat special occasion or (better yet) you can plan ahead and peel them the night before you want to eat them, say while watching a Seinfeld rerun or two (one where they go to LA…what?). The beans themselves are large and relatively light, long and thick (also called “broad beans”). Because the ratio of edible to nonedible parts is so low, you’ll have to buy a lot of favas — about a pound per person. Then the fun begins:
To Prepare Fava Beans for Cooking
1. Shell fava beans. (the pods will have a cottony interior — that is totally normal, don’t worry, an alien lifeform hasn’t grown in there)
2. Cook beans in a large pot of boiling, salted water for about 2 minutes. Have a bowl of ice water ready. Drain beans and immediately drop into ice water. (This is called “blanching” — you drop the cooked vegetable into the ice water to stop the cooking process and help it retain its bright color.)
3. Let beans cool. Drain from ice water. Turn on Seinfeld rerun, then peel beans (there is an outer, waxy layer to each bean that should come off fairly easily now that they’ve been blanched).
4. Now you can serve the beans however you like, preferably not Hannibal Lecter-style.
The first time I used fava beans myself (and made a generous friend peel the beans sans blanching — it worked, but I wouldn’t suggest it), I served them tossed with cooked pasta, fresh corn, and cubes of ricotta salata, all drizzled with good olive oil.
This time (in the photo above), I went for pure fava bean goodness, adapted from a recipe that wanted me to puree the favas. Puree all my hard work?! No way. I kept them whole, and served a little impromptu corn saute alongside (1 anaheim chile, seeded and diced fine + corn kernels from 2 ears of corn + a very few, very small new potatoes cut in half —> all sauteed in olive oil til cooked through and somewhat browned).
Fava Beans with Mint
Adapted from Bon Appetit (go to the web site to see the recipe for the halibut)
Serves 2 (drastically different from BA’s serving suggestion, but I love fava beans)
– 2 to 3 lbs. fresh fava beans
– 1/4 c. chopped fresh mint
– juice of 1/2 lemon
– pinch of dried crushed red pepper
– coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
– olive oil
1. Prepare fava beans as described above.
2. Heat 2 tbsp. olive oil in a large skillet. Add fava beans, pinch of red pepper, and sprinkling of salt and black pepper. Cook until heated through and tender, about five minutes. Remove from heat.
3. Stir in mint, lemon juice, and more olive oil (if desired). Adjust seasonings.