Fava beans behold your soul…and go great with fettuccine!
|May 18, 2011||Posted by ameliaps under beans, Italian, pasta and grains, spring|
Fresh fava beans are a fast-fleeting seasonal treat: when I see them at the market, usually at the sometime in early May, I have to have them. In Rome they are a welcome fresh lunch, served with pecorino and a glass of wine (see my previous post from last year, “Fava beans with pecorino, mint, oil and ramps”). There is nothing better than a fresh vegetable eaten just a few hours after picking.
Fava beans (Vicia faba, also called faba, broad, field beans and “fave” in Italian) have lots of interesting history facts behind them and have been cultivated since centuries. They are the quintessential ancient bean holding even some magic, as they are believed to behold the soul of the dead…
The Pythagoreans (followers of the philosopher Pytagora), who believed in metempsychosis (the transmigration of souls into the bodies of other animals) prohibited the consumption of beans, including favas, probably because they believed that beans showed the potential for life. The Roman writer Diogenes Laertius wrote that beans were commonly thought to contain a concentration of “the stuff” of which souls are made-of. That “stuff” was gas or wind (the ancient Greek word anemos meant both ‘soul’ and ‘wind’). The belief was that the buried dead released their souls into the soil in the form of gas which was then absorbed by beans as they grew into plants. Eating and digesting the beans would release the soul wind via the agency of the human body. Later on in history, Roman Christians cooked fava beans with sage on the Day of the Dead, which is November second, a tradition which developed into an almond biscuit known today as fave dei morti or ‘beans of the dead’. Throughout ancient Greece and Rome, fava beans were also used for voting (a white bean for yes a black bean for no). In Italy they hold the special symbolism of good luck. Some people believe that if you carry a fava bean always with you, you will never be without the essentials of life. A story goes that a long time ago in Sicily there was a crop failure that only spared favas. Staint Joseph was credited for saving the favas and everyone from starving.
Fava beans are time-consuming to prepare, that’s why many chefs just use a few of them to “accent” a dish. First you have to split open the pods and remove the beans. Then you have to blanch boil for one minute then throw in an ice-bath) the beans. And finally remove the peel from each individual bean.
I made Fettuccine con fave, Guanciale, e Pecorino Romano. Guanciale is unsmoked cured pig jowls (guancia is means cheek in Italian). But you can substitute pancetta (ok, even bacon…). Pecorino Romano (a kind of spicy Parmesan made from sheep’s milk). I topped it all with mint. Such a refreshing and fast spring pasta. Serve with Brunello di Montalcino and you are a happy person.
Since I hate to throw away anything, I kept the outside pods of the favas and made bucce di fava saltate (sauteed fava pods). They were very fresh, young and not tough at all (the first of the season). I boiled them for a couple of minutes then sautéed them with olive oil, and here’s the trick: I dusted a tablespoon of flour (I used spelt, to stay with the ancient theme) to give them some thickness and creaminess, salt and pepper…unexpectedly delicious. Ugly but so flavorful and yes, yes! tender. I would totally do this fast side again.
Here are some traditional dishes made with “fave”, in various regions of Italy (there are many more, but this is a good start):
- Fave are traditionally sown on November 2, All Souls Day. Around that time “Fave dei morti” or “beans of the dead” (small cakes made in the shape of broad beans) are prepared.
- Fresh fava beans with Pecorino Romano cheese and mint (Lazio/Rome), traditionally eaten on the first of May
- Broad bean purée with wild chicory (Puglia)
- “Bagiana”, a soup of fresh or dried fava beans seasoned with onions and beet leaves stir fried in olive oil and lard (central Italy)
- “Pesto di fave” or fava bean pesto (Liguria/Genoa region)
- “Scafata” or Fava Bean Stew (Umbria)
- Fava Bean Soup with Peas and Artichokes (Abbruzzo)
|Fettuccine con Fave, Guanciale, e Pecorino Romano|
- 300 gr. (2 cups, 3/4 pounds, 10 oz.) shelled fava beans (about 1kg. or 2 pounds unshelled)
- 500 gr. (1 pound) fettuccine
- A few tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
- A couple of slices of guanciale (or pancetta), diced (to yield about 1/3 cup)
- 1 white onion, diced as small as you can
- 100 gr. (1/2 cup) grated or shaved (my preference) Pecorino Romano
- A few mint leaves
- Salt and pepper TT
- Bring a large pot of heavily-salted water to a boil. Add the fava beans and boil for 1 minute. With a slotted spoon remove the beans and drop into a bowl full of water and ice. Drain and peel the beans outer skin, squeezing out the bean, discarding the skin. Set aside.
- Use the same pot of water to cook your pasta (so put it up to boil again) – no reason to throw that water. Cook the fettuccine until al dente (possibly a minute before the recommended time). Drain and reserve half a cup of the cooking water (always a great thing to do when making pasta: that starchy, salty water is a great sauce enhancer).
- While cooking the fettuccine, add a teaspoon of oil to a pan on medium heat and cook the diced guanciale (or pancetta) for about 5 minutes. In the same pan add a couple of tablespoons of oil and the white onion and cook a few minutes until transparent. Add the drained fettuccine, reserved fava beans, enough reserved pasta water to reach your preferred consistency, toss with some pecorino and top with fresh mint and shaved pecorino.