Sunday, August 16, 2009

Fa-va-va-va-voom: Fava beans!

A pile of de-podded fava beans ready for blanching after which their outer skins or husks will be removed. Is your mouth watering yet?

Summer Fest at A Way to Garden is focusing on beans and greens this week. We're a few days away from harvesting green beans, but the fava beans, well, that's another story.

Fava beans (Vicia faba) are among the first vegetables we sow here. They've also evolved into one of our must-grows. Not that we grow a lot of them -- just enough for a meal or two -- but it's always fun to anticipate a plate of the plump, pillowy beans.

Favas go in the ground in late April, six weeks or more before the bush beans (Phaseolus vulgaris) or the pole beans or the Chinese long beans and about the same time as the peas. We use a bacteria inoculant when we sow (You can buy the stuff at many seed/garden suppliers). Spritz the seeds with water, roll them in the inoculant and sow. The bacteria form nodules on the roots and help to fix the nitrogen from the air into a form more readily useful to a growing plant. (You can use it for other beans and peas, too.)

Favas here grow several feet tall and have very cool black and white blossoms. We grow a variety called 'Aquadulce' that we get from Stokes Seeds.These broad beans need a long, cool growing season and judging by our harvest, the cool temperatures I was complaining about earlier this summer were a boon to this year's crop. Harvest when the pods are thick and bumpy with the beans.

Once harvested, there's the matter of prepping the fava beans for cooking. Remove them from the pod and blanch them for several minutes in boiling water. Now it's time to remove their secondary husk. One by one, take each bean and squeeze one end to push the bean out of the husk. Yes, it's tedious, but not so bad if done while watching the news and having a cocktail. After this husking, all you need to do is warm them in a pan with some butter and salt. A vegetable like this doesn't need any fancy extras. If you do have leftovers (unlikely, but it can happen) try them in an omelet the next day.

Good to know: A small percentage of people have favism, an acute anemia caused by a reaction to eating fava beans or being exposed to its pollen.

The fava bean bed in May. Good things come to those who wait. We harvested in August.

A bowl of just-picked favas. We'll take them out of the pod and then shell them again before eating.

The beans cozy up to each other in the pod.

Fava beans prepared simply with butter and salt are the main attraction; peppered flatiron steak and puff pastry/blue cheese pinwheels play supporting roles.

OK, I can't resist, you've read this far -- here's the famous line.

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