Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Fava Saga

"Bag o favas in office frig" read the text from my friend Kristin, an invitation to help myself to the fava beans she had been shelling for days on end. Kristin was in the midst of a fava saga - she had inherited something like a 10-gallon trash bag full of the beans in their thick, puffy pods (about 20 pounds) as a result of another friend's garden generosity. Now if you know favas... they are a lot of work for very little return, to put it mildly. Not only do you have to free the beans from their outer pod, they have an inner pod as well that requires parboiling in order to remove. It's labor intensive, and Kristin, having socked away more than ten cups of the doubly-shelled beans in her freezer, was done. The remainder of her favas had to find a home, so naturally I jumped at them. I love me some favas.

So I strolled down to the office frig, and picked up what I can only describe as the largest assembly of fava beans I'd ever seen in my life outside of the farmers market - a mini trash bag, if you will, full of the green nuggets. It was like striking gold, especially since Kristin had done all of the round-one shelling. But my work was still cut out for me. I spent hours and hours and hours that evening parboiling and shelling my little heart out, and came away the proud owner of about six cups of my own finished product. Most went into the freezer, but what goes around comes around: I happened to be heading to a dinner party at Kristin's house the very next day... my contribution? A salad featuring fava beans, of course!

Now the salad came about in an interesting way as well. The week prior to receiving my fava bounty, my friend Carolyn had forwarded me a link to a Martha Stewart recipe for an asparagus, artichoke and fava bean salad. "This looks like something right up your alley," read her email. And of course it was.

But you know me: recipes are usually only sources of inspiration; rarely do I follow them to a T. This one was no exception. There were a couple of steps in there that I just wasn't going to do: paring down artichokes to their tender hearts from scratch - which I find to be a waste, since if I'm going to buy whole artichokes, I'm eating whole artichokes; and simmering white asparagus in a milk concoction for 45 minutes until tender - seriously? Blanching regular old green asparagus for about a minute in boiling water works beautifully for me. So, my version used canned and drained artichoke hearts, and quickly blanched asparagus. I shaved off a good couple hours of prep time. In addition, Martha's version would make for a beautifully composed, plated dish... but that isn't exactly ideal for a potluck gathering. So in my version, I tossed all of the ingredients together with some spring greens in order for it to be easily doled out from a big salad bowl.

I even tweaked the dressing - possibly the best part of this salad and what made it so yummy. Martha's version was good... but it was pale in color. I realized I wanted something green - everything in the salad was basically a shade of green, so I went monochromatic, and bumped up the flavor in a subtly different way. So, if you're aching to get some green onto your plate (literally), give this a try. Below is Martha's recipe for the salad with my adjustments noted (visit her website for her complete version).

For the Dressing
  • 1/3 cup low-fat buttermilk
  • 1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 scallion, green part only (I used 4 scallions and a hefty handful of chives - that made for the green color of my dressing)
  • 3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
  • 1/4 teaspoon coarse salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper (I added way more)
Puree all the ingredients in a food processor until smooth.

For the Salad (my version)
  • 2 14-ounce cans of artichoke hearts, drained and quartered
  • 1 pound green asparagus, cut into 2-inch pieces
  • 1 cup fresh fava bean pods, doubly shelled
  • 1/2 cup fresh mint, chopped
  • 4-5 cups fresh spring greens
  • 1/2-3/4 cup feta cheese, crumbled
Combine all salad ingredients, toss with dressing and serve.

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