Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Springtime Brings Fava Beans



Fava beans are a fantastic cool weather cover crop used to improve soils by many gardeners and farmers. But in my garden we grow them every year to eat them as a spring delicacy. We can hardly wait as we watch the pods getting bigger and bigger as the weather gets warmer. The tender beans are wonderfully buttery - try them boiled for a few minutes, drain them and add a bit of olive oil, a sprinkle of salt and perhaps some lemon juice. My favorite way to eat them is to make a simple but delicious warm salad by adding fresh chopped tarragon from the garden, diced red onion and cooked baby potatoes. 

Pureed favas with seared scallops and fava leek soup

 Fava Bean Recipes

That said, our fava crop inspired my husband and I to come up with some tasty but simple ways to enjoy and celebrate our beans.
Scroll down past the "how to grow" below to see the recipes form our “fava bean challenge”!

Growing Fava Beans
Fava plants like cool weather and they do well grown over the winter in our temperate California climate, and they tolerate frost. I plant them in October for edible beans beginning in April. In California they are also planted in early spring for a crop in the summer. The pods are large and the beans swell quickly to eating size after they appear. After harvesting the beans as they mature in waves over a few weeks (about 4-5 weeks), we cut down the stalks and add them to our compost pile for valuable green manure. But we also let a few pods dry on the stalk to use for the next season’s planting. 

Fava Beans as a Cover Crop
Fava beans are members of the legume family, which are known as “nitrogen fixing” plants, and they don’t require nitrogen fertilizers, in fact they return nitrogen to the soil if you turn the plants under when they flower (the nitrogen is fixed in the nodules developed at the roots).  The tall plants can reach 6 feet high and are elegant with white flowers like giant pea flowers with black spots. The flowers are edible, and taste like raw peas (try a few in your salad). Since the plants grow tall and bushy, they provide a lot of biomass to recycle back into your garden through composting. They also attract many types of bees.

Fava bean pods ready for picking in my suburban garden
 The UC Davis Small Farm Program has some great information on fava beans:

“Fava beans are also called Horse, Broad, Windsor, English Dwarf Bean, Tick, Pigeon, Bell, Haba, Feve and Silkworm beans. It is similar in size to the lima bean and is native to the Mediterranean region, especially Italy and Iran. It is one of the oldest cultivated plants known, with its culture extending back to prehistoric times.”

“In addition to the organic matter benefit, the leguminous nature of fava beans can provide large amounts of nitrogen to the soil benefiting existing perennial crops such as orchards or subsequent high nitrogen consuming annual crops.”

Fava Bean Recipes:
The amounts in our recipes are approximate; use them as rough guidelines. To cook the fresh beans, add them to the pot when the water begins to boil (just use enough water so they are just covered) and let them simmer for just a few minutes (3 to 5 minutes should fine), then drain them.You are then ready to make any or all of the following dishes below.

Note: If the beans are tender I don't bother peeling the skin off of them; if you have large beans that are tough, you may want to spend the time to peel the skin off after cooking them.


Fava bean crostini with whole wheat walnut bread
Fava Crostini

1 cup coarsely chopped cooked favas
1 tablespoon diced red onion
A sprig of fresh tarragon, chopped, or other fresh herb that you like (basil, cilantro)
1 clove garlic, grated into a couple tablespoons of olive oil
Kosher salt
Olive oil
4 thin slices of good rustic bread, this is delicious on a hearty bread like Acme's Whole Wheat Walnut.

Toast the thin slices of your bread in an oven or toaster. We used our local Acme’s whole wheat walnut bread which was delicious with the favas. After it’s toasted brush with the olive oil and garlic mixture. Put the chopped fava beans, diced onion, and tarragon in a small bowl and drizzle with some olive oil and mix it gently with a spoon. Spoon it onto the bread slices and enjoy! A couple of slices per person makes a great appetizer.

Fava bean and leek soup with croutons
 Fava Bean and Leek Soup with Acme Whole Wheat Walnut Croutons

Small amount of vegetable broth or water to thin the soup
2 cups each of thinly sliced leeks and cooked favas
Acme’s whole wheat walnut bread or other rustic bread
Chives and crème fraiche optional for garnish

Saute the thinly sliced leeks on low heat With olive oil for several minutes until they are very soft, then add the cooked fava beans and sauté for two more minutes.  Add about half a cup of vegetable broth or water and use a stick blender to purée the soup. Add more liquid if you would like a thinner soup. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

To make the croutons chop thick slices of the bread into squares about an inch across. Posts of these in the oven on a cookie sheet. When you take them out of the up and brushed with olive oil with crushed garlic if you wish.

Ladle your soup into bowls, add a few croutons and a dollop of crème fraîche and chopped chives if you like.

Fava puree with seared sea scallops
 Fava Puree with Seared Scallops

 1 - 2 cups of cooked fava beans
Olive oil
Kosher salt
Large sea scallops, 2-3 per person

Puree cooked favas in a hand-cranked food-mill (this is a quick way to remove the skins on the beans). Season with olive oil and salt.
Sear the scallops in a hot pan on both sides until almost cooked through. Put a pool of your fava puree on a plate and put the scallops on top. Grilled or sautéed asparagus goes nicely with this and is also a spring vegetable in season!

Fresh Fava Beans: Enjoy Them While They Last
Try planting a few fava bean seeds for a cool weather crop or find them at your local farmer’s market now and relish this special spring delicacy.

Photos: Urban Artichoke
 

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