The Harbingers of Spring
Spring Fling! Spring has to be the season I most look forward too. There is nothing quite like spring in the Pacific Northwest. A glorious time of year when spring emerges from winter’s cold grey rains. A vast green carpet of miner’s lettuce, stinging nettles, wood sorrel, and wild watercress emerges from deep within the dark forest.
Our farmer’s gardens brim with the season’s first sweet English peas, plump fava beans, AAA white asparagus, and green garlic. As the weather warms, fiddleheads and wild ramps sprout up in enormous fields in the Midwest. Briny emerald green sea beans are gathered along the chilly Washington coastline.
Vignarola is an Italian vegetable stew that gloriously celebrates spring in all her glory. It’s comprised of young, tender artichokes, fava beans, sweet peas, spring onions and lettuce braised in a light broth punctuated with fresh mint and lemon. After reading several variations of Vignarola, also called Frittedda in Sicily, I concluded Italians are a lot like people from Provence: everyone will argue about what is authentic and what is blasphemous concerning recipes. With vignarola, the arguments seem to center around: do you add guanciale or not; is fennel accepted or not; is it even legal to add potatoes?
I am reminded of my own heated conversations with my Marseille-born mother Mishou over how to make a proper ratatouille. She advocated cutting everything larger than I usually do and slowly stewing it together. She correctly points out that my version is more a restaurant one than a home styled one, as all the ingredients are cut finely, cooked separately, then mixed together at the last moment.
Since time immemorial, favas have been appreciated for their buttery texture and nutty flavor. They have appeared on tables across the globe from Egypt to Mexico, and all point between. The tendency may be to complicate with elaborate recipes, but true lovers know they are best appreciated eaten simply.
Here are three simple recipes for you to savor favas this spring:
Spring has slowly been coming to the Pacific Northwest. Sure, we’ve gotten our miner’s lettuce, fiddleheads, and wood sorrel. Yes, the halibuts have come, and the spring king salmon are making their legendary runs up the Columbia River. Even morels have started poking their curious little honeycombed heads through the forest floors. But what has been noticeably missing is one of the oldest and most loved harbingers of spring, the fava bean.
The first step is to clean and blanch the favas, it only takes a few seconds and is rather mindless so pour yourself a glass of wine. The first step is to remove them from their outer pod. Each pod contains three to five favas, sometimes more, collect all the beans in a bowl.
Bring a pot of salted water to a rapid boil and drop the favas in for 20 seconds. Immediately cool them off in a bowl of ice water. Lightly squeeze the favas to remove the outer skin and reveal the super tender and vivid bean.
1.TARTINES OF FAVA, RADISHES AND FRESH GOAT CHEESE
Drizzle olive oil over sliced bread and brown on both sides in your broiler. Smear fresh goat cheese, ricotta, mascarpone or even cream cheese on top. I use Portland Creamery’s fresh goat cheese marinated in olive oil with herbs. Top with a salad of favas, sliced radishes, olive oil, sea salt and pepper and even a tiny amount of lemon zest. I garnished my tartines with agretti, a seldom-used plant that is popular in Italy. It is also known as saltwort or friar’s beard. Groundworks Organics, a Eugene, Oregon farm described it as similar to sea beans only less salty.
2. SALAD OF RAW PURPLE ASPARAGUS, FAVAS AND SNAP PEAS
A quick ‘raw’ salad of shaved purple asparagus (obviously you can substitute green asparagus), sliced snap peas, fava beans, and radishes tossed with fresh lemon juice, extra virgin olive oil, shaved pecorino cheese and pluches of chervil from my spring garden. I shaved the asparagus using a mandolin BUT you can use a vegetable peeler just as easily.
3. FAVA, SPRING ONION AND SMOKED BACON SOUP
Though, perhaps the most complex of the three recipes, this is very much a home dish rather than something to be eaten in a restaurant. Chefs would complicate its simplicity and remove the very virtue that makes it great. As I prepared this quick soup, my mother’s voice haunted me. When I was a budding chef I always made soups using some form of a stock as the base. My mother would question me why, opting for the more French method of simply using water. 40 years later I hate to admit, but she is right. Water is much more neutral in flavor and allows the ingredients to truly shine.
On the way home from the Portland farmer’s market I stopped at Edelweiss, a small German butcher shop with a selection of specks to buy. I opted for Margen speck, a slightly salty and smoky bacon as good eaten raw as lightly cooked. I cut five thin slices two inches by one inch to garnish my soup with.
The recipe is simple but has a few more steps and ingredients than the previous two.
Springtime soup of Fava Beans, Spring Onions, and Smoked Bacon
- 1 tablespoon butter
- 5 slices bacon
- 2 spring onions sliced
- 4 cups of water
- 2 pounds fava beans — shuck blanched and peeled
- 1/2 cup cream
- 2 egg yolks
- 1/2 lemon squeezed
- chervil to garnish
- Melt butter in a non-reactive pot, and add bacon, gently cooking for five minutes, low enough so the bacon does not color at all.
- Add spring onions, and continue to cook till tender and wilted, about five minutes on low heat.
- Add water, bring to boil, and let simmer for ten minutes.
- Reserve one tablespoon of favas and bacon for a garnish, then put remaining fava beans and broth into a blender and puree till smooth.
- Add cream, egg yolks, and lemon juice and continue pureeing till smooth and creamy.
- Pour into warmed soup bowls and garnish with chervil, reserved favas, and bacon.
If you need to reheat, do so gently as to prevent egg yolks from scrambling.