Saturday, May 6, 2017


While picking the last of the fava beans, I vowed to plant fewer next year. I like favas just fine, but day in and day out is a lot of beans. I had to stretch to find some new ways to cook them, beyond my favorite salteado—sauté of favas with serrano ham.

Favas beans of various sizes, ready for picking in my garden.

I also missed the springtime paean to fava beans by market maven, Russ Parsons, former food editor of the Los Angeles Times. He reliably activated the dispute about whether or not favas should, after shelling, be peeled as well. He came down firmly in favor of double-peeling, shells and skins (read Russ Parsons on fava beans here). I stubbornly stuck to no-peel, the traditional Spanish way.

But, here I was, with heaps of favas. Might as well have a go at peeling some of them. (Shelling and peeling was accomplished while watching Rafa Nadal win the Barcelona tennis final last Sunday.)

Fat favas, middle-sized and baby, plus small pods to cook in their shells.
To shell, break open the pods and squeeze the beans out of the pods. I separated them into tiny ones, called habas “baby” in Spain, middle-sized beans and big fat ones. The tiny ones were my private lunch—quickly sautéed with serrano ham and an egg. The big ones I bagged and refrigerated for making a purée another day. The mid-sized beans I decided to skin. The small (3- to 4-inch) pods with undeveloped beans I set aside for cooking “in their britches,” shells and all.

After blanching, pinch out bean.

To skin the favas, place in boiling water for 3 minutes. Remove and drain. As soon as the beans are cool enough to handle, pinch each bean, breaking the outer skin and popping out the inner green bean.

The three minutes in boiling water cooked them enough for me. I finished by sautéing them in olive oil with a handful of chopped scallions and serving alongside an ibérico pork chop.

Double-peeled favas. Three minutes blanching cooks them sufficiently.
The double-peeled beans were delicate and tender, but, in my opinion, rather blah. I quite like the textural contrast of the somewhat chewy skins and soft, tender inside bean, all in the same bite.

Here are some of the other ways I cooked fava beans this week. As you can see, fresh mint and wild fennel greens are typical with Spanish fava dishes. Parsley, cilantro or tarragon are good alternatives.

Favas in their "britches," cooked without shelling.

Silky-smooth purée of cooked favas that have been sieved.

The fava purée becomes soup with additional veggies.

Raw fava beans pounded with bread, olive oil and garlic, a rustic peasant dish called porra.

Favas in Their "Britches"
Habas con Calzón

A garlicky dressing with bacon tops the unshelled favas.

Small favas can be cooked without shelling. They need only 10 to 15 minutes to cook. Cut the potatoes in small pieces so they cook in the same time.

Serves 4 as a starter or side dish.

½ pound small fava beans in their shells
½ pound potatoes, peeled and cut in 1 ½-inch chunks
¼ onion
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 ounce diced bacon (optional)
1 clove garlic, sliced crosswise
Red pepper flakes, to taste
1 teaspoon smoked pimentón (paprika)
Chopped mint to serve

Break off the ends of the fava pods and pull off any stringy bits. Snap them in half. Place in a pan with the cut-up potatoes, onion and 1 teaspoon of salt. Add water to cover. Bring to a boil and cook until beans and potatoes are tender, about 10 minutes. Drain, saving some of the liquid. Place the beans in a serving bowl and keep them warm.

In a small skillet, heat the oil and fry the bacon, if using, with the sliced garlic, just until garlic begins to turn golden. Add the red pepper flakes. Remove from heat and add the pimentón and ¼ cup of the liquid in which the favas cooked. Pour the dressing over the beans and potatoes. Garnish with chopped mint to serve.

Fava Bean Purée
Crema de Habas

Serve this purée as a side dish.
Serve the fava purée as a side dish or turn it into a soup by combining it with stock. For a silky-smooth purée, after blending, sieve the purée. You’ll lose about a third of the mash—all the skins. For the soup, it’s not necessary to sieve the purée.

If using the optional serrano ham bone, blanch it in boiling water before cooking with the favas.

This recipe works equally well with peas.

Serves 4.

5 cups shelled fava beans (about 1 ½ pounds)
1 (2-inch) piece serrano ham bone, blanched (optional)
1 carrot
½ onion
3 cups water

Place the favas, ham bone, if using, carrot, onion, water and 1 teaspoon salt in a pan. Bring to a boil and simmer until favas are very tender, about 20 minutes. Drain, saving the broth. Reserve the carrot. Discard the onion and ham bone.

Place the favas in a blender with ½ cup of the reserved cooking broth. Purée them until very smooth.

For the purée:
Cooked and blended favas
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon cream
Freshly ground black pepper
Salt to taste
Chopped fennel to garnish

Press the purée through a sieve, discarding the pulp that remains.

Add oil, cream, pepper and salt. Heat gently. Serve the purée garnished with reserved cooked carrot, cut in small dice, and chopped fennel leaves.

Combined with broth and vegetables, the purée becomes soup.

For the soup:
Use the liquid in which the favas cooked plus enough additional chicken broth to make 5 cups.

Cooked and blended favas
5 cups chicken or vegetable broth
½ cup each diced carrot, celery and leek
Diced cooked ham (optional)
Pimentón (paprika) to garnish

After blending, reserve the purée without sieving.

Combine the reserved broth in which the favas cooked in a pan with chicken or vegetable broth to make about 5 cups.  Add the diced carrot, celery and leek. Bring to a boil and simmer until vegetables are tender.

Whisk in the fava bean purée and diced ham, if using. Heat gently. Serve the soup sprinkled with pimentón.

Fava Bean Cream
Porra de Habas

Garnish the fava cream with strips of ham and cooked egg.
Traditional porra, a peasant dish of inland Málaga province, is made of mashed bread, garlic and olive oil with the addition of tomatoes—a thick, gazpacho cream. This one, which probably pre-dates the tomato version—is made with raw fava beans. It’s also known as ajo blanco con habas—white gazpacho with favas—although the color is a pale green.

The porra traditionally was made in a dornillo, a wooden bowl, and mashed with a porra, or “club,” a large wooden pestle resembling a cop’s baton. It’s quickly made in a blender. The favas should be freshly shelled, but size doesn't matter. They needn’t be skinned and the cream is not sieved. All the nutrients go into it.

Use fruity olive oil.

Use best quality extra virgin olive oil, as the oil both flavors and emulsifies the cream. I chose a fruity Hojiblanca varietal oil, so typical of Málaga province.

Serve fava cream as a dip.
The fava cream is served as a starter. But it also makes a fine party dip, accompanied by crunchy crackers and vegetable dippers. It can be garnished with either bacalao, salt cod, or strips of serrano ham as well as chopped egg.

Serves 4 as a starter.

4 ounces crustless stale bread (about 4 slices)
½ pound shelled fava beans
2 cloves garlic
2 tablespoons Sherry vinegar
6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Thinly sliced serrano or ibérico ham, cut in strips
Hard-cooked egg, chopped

Break the bread into pieces and put in a small bowl. Cover with water and allow to soak for an hour. Squeeze out as much water as possible and place the bread pulp in a blender.

Set aside a few favas to garnish the finished cream. Place the rest in the blender with the bread, garlic, vinegar and ½ teaspoon salt. Blend to make a smooth purée. Blend in 5 tablespoons of the oil. Taste the mixture and season with more salt and vinegar if needed. Chill the cream.

Porra can be served as a starter. Finish it with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil.
Serve the fava bean cream in a bowl or individual bowls. Scatter the reserved favas on top and garnish with strips of ham and chopped hard-cooked egg. Drizzle additional olive oil on the surface of the cream.

More recipes for porra:

More recipes with fava beans:

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