Spring has sprung when you start seeing fresh fava beans in the markets. Forget about the cold. As early as March, at least in most parts of Italy, there are baskets-full of the long green fava bean pods in supermarkets as well as local farmer’s markets, waiting to be bought. And they will soon be here.
You can’t tell much about the beans inside from the long, skinny, soft green pods, but once you unzip the stem end, from top to bottom, and open them up, there’s no mistaking the boxy little green bean inside.
Favas are not like most other beans such as cannellini, chickpeas, kidney, and black-eyed peas which conform to what is considered normal planting and growing schedules: Planting when the weather warms up and harvest when the weather begins to cool off. Favas are planted in the fall and come up in the early spring. In addition, each bean has an extra layer around it that needs to be peeled in order to thoroughly enjoy the delicious little bean inside.
Favas are best when they are fresh, and when you’ve not only taken them from the pods, but then carefully peel the thick skin around the tender little beans. It’s a job that requires a sharp peeling knife and patience. I find if you scratch the bean’s skin on an edge with the knife, you can then use your fingernails to pull the skin off. It’s not unusual for the bean inside to split in half.
Cooking the peeled beans takes minutes. you can quickly blanch the them in boiling water for 2-3 minutes, cool them down under cold running water, and season with salt and olive oil. The beans will be bright green, deliciously fresh and almost sweet. A true taste of Spring.
If you don’t peel the little beans, you’ll find that the skin turns an unappetizing gray-green color when cooking them, and the tough outer skin is unpleasant to chew, and swallow.
I like the beans served simply: as a side dish, in a green salad, or with some grated pecorino cheese.
And while we’re on the subject of Spring greens, don’t forget the sweet Spring onions, that look somewhat like giant scallions, that are available now and are a delicious accompaniment to grilled meat or fish.
I trim the greens and peel just one layer off the onions, and also remove the root end. For me the best way to prepare them is to lightly coat the onions with olive oil, sparingly salt them and roast in a 450-degree oven for 30 minutes, or until they start to brown. The green parts will wilt, but you can eat and enjoy every bit of them.