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The Fabulous and Frustrating Fava Bean!

June 24, 2008

“The farmers market is the only place left where
we interact with someone who grew our food.”
Deborah Madison

Farmer’s Markets open across the country this month. Rain or shine, it is a glorious day for everyone in their communities. Other than it being a feast for the senses, there are so many other reasons to shop at your local market. (Let me pull up my soapbox, ahem…) Eat locally, support small farmers, protect our environment, reduce your carbon footprint, connect with your community and food, nurture health, cultivate biodiversity, promote humane treatment of farm animals, slow down, enjoy life AND the food tastes better.

One of my personal favorite reasons to shop at the farmer’s market is trying new foods. There is always something unusual that catches my eye that looks like produce from another planet. I’ll never forget the first time I saw fava beans, thoughts of Jack and the giant beanstalk swirled in my mind. They look like enormous, bumpy green beans. These ancient beans are one of the oldest cultivated plants. They were the only bean in Europe for centuries, until the Americas were discovered, where most all beans come from.

Favas have been slow to catch on here, in the land of fast, because they are, well, let’s just say they are high maintenance. First you have to shuck them out of their pods, then boil them for just a few minutes, then pinch them out of their waxy skins. So, why do it? For one, they are nutritional dynamos, loaded with fiber, iron, and so much protein that they have been called the meat of the poor. Supposedly they single handedly saved Italy from a great famine. For two, fava beans are very delicious with their lovely green buttery flavor. Oh, and they are good therapy for slowing down and getting in touch with your food. Make it a Sunday with friends, setting around shucking the beans. It’s better than chewing the fat!

Our community is very lucky to have Kingfisher Farms organic farm right here in our own valley. The owner, Jeff Trenary, who has been farming for 18 years, will be at our market with many tender vegetables, (and Favas) he coaxed out of the rain drenched earth. This incredibly aromatic recipe highlights his offering of vegetables. Use your imagination on what to add, it can be served as a main vegetarian dish or a side.

Spring Market Veggies and Herbs
2 – 3 young spring onions, stalks and all
6 to 10 small sweet carrots
4 to 6 little turnips
3 – 4 small potatoes
2 pounds of fava beans, shucked
1 tablespoons of butter or olive oil
2 tablespoons of chopped fresh parsley
1 tablespoon of chopped fresh rosemary, sage or oregano (Fresh tarragon is amazing in this recipe, if you can find it)
1 tablespoon of lemon juice
Salt and pepper

Slice the onion bulbs into rounds, cutting far up into the tender stalks. Depending on the size of the carrots, turnips, and potatoes either leave whole or cut in half length ways, rinse.
Boil 4 – 6 cups of water in a large pan. Drop the shucked fava beans in the boiling water for 1 minute or so, then scoop them out and rinse them in cool water. (Make sure and save the yummy stock water for the next step) Coax the favas out of their skins by slicing a bean size slit in the smooth end with a knife and pinching them. (They can go pretty far when catapulted this way!) Compost the skins.

Melt tablespoon of butter in a large skillet; add the onions and sauté for about 2 minutes over medium heat till fragrant. Add a ½ cup of the stock water, the vegetables, half the herbs, 1 teaspoon of salt and a few cranks of pepper. With the lid on the pan, simmer/ steam until vegetables are cooked to your liking, about 10- 15 minutes, stirring gently now and then. Add stock water a ½ cup at a time to keep fluid in the pan for the sauce that is building. Add the fava beans, lemon juice, rest of herbs and stir till nicely blended.

Remove from heat and let rest, with the lid on, just long enough for all the veggies to get to know each other. Remember, Fava beans don’t need to be cooked long. Serve with some of the sauce drizzled on top and a sprig of herbs for beauty.

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