It seems that fava beans, also known as broad beans, are the less known variety of beans for home cooks. Several of my friends have never cooked them. This is unfortunate as fava beans are buttery-delicious and are readily available in farmers market in spring and summer.
Maybe the problem is that fava beans are a little time consuming to prepare because you have to shell each individual beans. Not only you have to remove it from its soft and velvety pod, then you have to blanch the beans in boiling water and squeeze out each individual beans from its protective waxy armour.
How to buy them?
Fava beans are best in early spring when they are young and tender. Look for pods that are relatively small, not the large ones that are bulging with overgrown beans.
You can buy fava beans already shelled but why? They are resting comfortably in their velvety container and will be much happier to stay there until you are ready to cook them. Once shelled they begin to dry.
According to Sarah Raven, two pounds of beans in the pod yield about a cup and a half of shelled beans.
To peel or not to peel? that is the question.
In Europe, very young fava beans are eaten raw with the outer shell (it’s still very soft), accompanied by salty pecorino. The larger beans are boiled quickly, waxy shell removed and the beans are dressed with oil and lemon juice, sautéed, or pureed, flavoured, and serve on crostini.
Although most sources here say to remove the waxy layer, not all cultures follow this method. In several Mediterranean cuisines you cook the beans with the outer waxy shell that get wrinkled around the beans. You can then eat the beans with or without the skin.
There are different varieties of fava beans but we don’t get them here so perhaps explore your markets and speak to the vendors to find out. Some of the beans are green, some are pinkish red.
How to undress a fava beans?
Deborah Madison says to “unzip” the pod by pulling the thread from the flower end downward. Once unzipped, it is easy to split the pod open along the seam and reveal the jewel-like beans resting on a velvet cushion inside the pod. It looks quite comfortable in there.
If you are new to fava, unless the beans are really young and tender I would suggest to peel them. Drop them into boiling water for a minute or so and then drain and cool so you can handle them. Once cool enough, squeeze each individual beans between your finger and the bright green inner bean will pop out of the waxy shell. This is the part you use in the cooking.
How to use them?
Mash them together with cooked fresh peas, drizzle with olive oil, add salt and pepper and pile on top of crostini with some sliced radishes or thinly sliced pecorino.
Add them to soups, to salads with asparagus and lentils, use in risotto, make into a spread or toss with pasta among other things.