The Fracas in the Favas: a Beretta, a Favetta, a Fable
It goes without saying that I have taken a year hiatus from writing about food. While I have been away from the kitchen, I managed to get married, renovate a house, curse the day I moved to Italy and swear I was becoming a vegan, just to piss off the nutty people in the even nuttier town that I currently call home. Yet here I am, still in Agerola, Napoli, Italia. I battle it out with the locals, lament the lack of infrastructure and on my worst days, just wish I could go to the Whole Foods and freebase a sample tub of guacamole chased with an overpriced bottle of asparagus water. But then there are days like today, when I look outside at my garden and realize, whatever, I might as well go pick some fava beans.
After one year of waiting and toiling and swearing I did not want to even look at my kitchen, I tepidly dove back into cooking today. The favas were begging to be picked and so I stomped out into the garden this misty morning wearing a pair of house slippers and a kimono and began picking away. I always get the distinct impression that the locals are watching me, and that their little agrarian Stasi convenes regularly to bemoan my general lack of sapere fare in the garden. Admittedly I don’t do myself any favors by swanning around in my Japanese Kimono as if I were Edith Bouvier Beale welcoming a documentary film crew, crooning “this is the most perfect costume for today….”
Last year I learned to appreciate the simple pleasure of favetta. It is a rustic pulse of fava beans, olive oil and mint, which can be eaten by the spoon full or smeared on crostini. Making the favetta is the easy part. Picking and cleaning the fava beans is a bitch. The fava stalks grow up to about just below my chest and given Giuseppe’s and my general lack of precision in the garden, our fava stalks have grown into a tangled mess with little room to pass through on foot.
This makes me particularly nervous because one late spring afternoon last year, a minor fracas ensued around the time of fava harvest. Sincera Rosa, Giuseppe’s aunt was judiciously harvesting favas for us while I was pretending to be busy inside but actually watching Orange is the New Black on Netflix. We heard her let out a little shriek. Giuseppe ran into the garden in his underpants. His brother, Antonio hurdled outside with his Beretta. His mother laughed (she and Sincera Ro got into a row in circa 1975 for reasons beyond my current comprehension and no longer speak to each other). I continued watching Orange is the New Black as if nothing had happened.
A big black snake languorously slithered through the bushes. Giuseppe tried to fling it into another part of the garden with a hoe, reciting the old Neapolitan legend that killing big black snakes is bad luck. “They aren’t venomous,” he screamed at his brother, “You can’t kill it.” To which Antonio responded by cocking his Beretta and shooting the snake. The snake corpse remained to rot in the garden for the rest of spring. Giuseppe’s mother still claims it was Sincera Rosa’s fault.
So this morning as I ventured into the messy favas bushes, all I could think of was snakes. I hastily yanked as many fava bean pods off their stalks as I could, stuffed them into a plastic bag and ran into the house. For good measure, I made the sign of the cross and rubbed the Padre Pio statute outside of our door. No snakes, please no snakes.
Cleaning the fava runs no risk of unsavory serpent encounters, but it is laborious and repetitive. The fava is unique in that it must be shelled twice. First, you must shell it from its pod, like any normal bean. And then for extra fun, you have to shell each individual bean. There is a tough protective layer that surrounds each bean that is unnervingly unique to the fava. Thusly I sat myself down at the kitchen table with an assembly line of plastic bags and a queue of several Modern Love podcasts to listen to.
The beans got shelled, my love life remained decidedly uniformed despite the uplifting stories of Modern Love and most importantly I avoided any fracas of snakes in the favas. Thank you Padre Pio. Enjoy the favas, stay away from the snakes.
- 2lbs fresh fava beans in pods (If you want to be a sell out, buy frozen fava beans that are already shelled. If you want to be an even bigger sell out, buy green peas- fresh or frozen. You will need about 2 cups. I do it too so I am the biggest sell out of all.
- 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
- 2 cloves minced garlic
- 1/4 cup chopped walnuts
- 3 tablespoons finely chopped min
- Zest and juice from one lemon
- 2 teaspoons sal
- 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
- Sea salt (such as Maldon) for optional garnish
- Mint sprig for option garnis
- Shell the individual fava beans
- Cover shelled beans in a sauce pan with enough water to cover by one inch
- Salt the water and bring to boil
- Reduce to simmer for 30 minutes, cooking until beans are tender
- Strain the fava beans over a bowl and reserve cooking liquid
- Allow beans to cool and pop beans out of second individual shell
- Heat 1 tablespoon vegetable oil in skillet over medium heat.
- Add 1/3 cup shelled fava beans and fry until golden and slightly crunchy
- Set aside on paper towel lined plate
- Mash the remaining beans with a fork in a medium bowl or use a mortar pestle and set aside
- In a small bowl, mash the walnuts, mint, lemon zest, juice and salt together with a fork or pestle
- Add the walnut mixture to the mashed favas and further mash to incorporate
- Slowly drizzle olive oil, and one tablespoon fava bean cooking liquid into the favetta and further stir to incorporate.
- Garnish with fried fava beans, mint sprig and Maldon salt
- Serve on crostini or be a sloth like me and eat directly with a fork. *Note: As you have probably realized, favetta is A LOT like pesto. You can toss leftover favetta with pasta as you would a pesto. If you want to add cheese, make like a Roman and use Pecorino Romano. You can also add whatever you like to favetta, including Marcona almonds and anchovies. Just be sure to let the richly vegetal taste of the fava be the star of you dish.