I can’t remember another Fourth so rainy; it’s such a quintessentially sunny holiday. But I welcome the steady supply of moisture. Sure, the rain has its disadvantages: For instance, the four hour train ride I endured to get here last night thanks to trees down across the tracks. And getting soaked to the bone replacing the gate to the lower pig pasture in the morning. Rain, in regular doses, will contribute to bounteous crops for the rest of the summer, but too much rain, high humidity, and a lack of sun are ideal conditions for the potato/tomato blight that wiped out entire tomato crops a few summers ago. So if you are growing tomatoes, potatoes or basil check out the lower part of the plant for those tell-tale yellow leaves with brown spots.
After such a late spring, it seems amazing that so many things are coming in simultaneously. This week, the corn has grown well above knee high, we’ve seen the first broccoli, cauliflower, cucumbers, and purslane, and the first real wave of beans. Some things are not yet ready in salable quantities, but we know we will soon have ample supply. The red and white currants are ready; the black currants and gooseberries (the latter usually turning pink already at this date) still need another week.
But what’s really bounteous this week are fava beans (also known as broad beans) and frisée, one of our favorite types of lettuce. That the two are coming ready at the same time, at first seemed to me serendipitous, since the frisée, according to our Fedco seed catalogue, is actually Très Fine Maraȋchère Olesh: “a large frizzy endive with very fine ribs suitable for late spring and early summer harvests. Holds well in the field. Known to chefs as frisée. A 19th-century French heirloom.” Its botanical name is Chicorium Endivia, a genus that also includes escarole. One of my favorite preparations is Fave e Cicoria, an Apulian specialty we’ve especially enjoyed at one of our favorite New York restaurants, I Trulli. Since we have favas and chicory, I had planned to suggest that you buy both our favas and our frisée to make it.
Not so fast. You might combine a mash of fresh fava beans with our wilted frisée, but it would be a novel variation on the Apulian classic. The Apulians use dried fava beans to make the mash, and the chicory they use is a more bitter variety – Chicorium Intybus, sometimes mistaken for red dandelion, and not Chicorium Endivia. Indeed, many of the published recipes call the dish fava paste with bitter greens, and suggest as chicory substitutes kale, beet greens, dandelions or other bitter greens. We can help with the beet greens, or broccoli leaves, and definitely with dandelions, but not with Chicorium Intybus for the classic Fave e Cicoria. I still encourage you to buy our frisée, but plan to use it more as you would a sweet lettuce-type green. Think salad!
And now for my fava bean pitch. To us, fava bean time is a special time of year, because the bean has such a short season, such distinctive flavor, and for Peter, it evokes such strong associations, of almost Proustian dimension, with his childhood in Wales and his young adulthood in Turkey. And each year we republish his Turkish recipe for braising the whole tender young fava beans still in the pod in olive oil, a really special treat. I’ll include it at the end of this piece.
But there are more reasons to love fava beans than that one dish. Peter has previously written of the lore associated with the fava bean. He’s the romantic in our family; I’m the utilitarian one. So I’ll provide you with the more mundane reasons for loving and eating favas.
First, growing favas is good as a matter of horticultural practice. Favas are related to vetch and are one of the best nitrogen fixing legumes. Incorporated back into the soil after their season of production, they are a great form of green manure.
Second, fava bean plants are cold hardy and well suited to early spring production in areas, like ours, with ample moisture. They grow well in a wide variety of soils and in inhospitable conditions, and it is anticipated that they will be more likely to succeed than other, more sensitive crops, in times of climatic extremes brought on by global warming. Hence, the annual adoration of the fava bean in Sicily that Peter has previously described. There an annual church festival thanks St. Joseph for saving Sicily from starvation, harking back to a year in the distant past, when all other crops failed and the population managed to survive by eating fava beans. Of course, hot spells in the Spring could threaten the fava crop, but we can adjust by planting these frost-hardy plants earlier.
Third, favas are an extremely good protein source. They are about 24% protein, a higher proportion than even other legumes. In Egypt, where it is estimated that the population derives 75% of its protein from plant sources, many people eat fava beans in various forms three times a day.
Fourth, fava beans are high in L-dopa, a precursor of dopamine, which can benefit individuals, such as those with Parkinson’s disease, who cannot synthesize dopamine to control their motor function. L-dopa is also thought to control hypertension and to increase libido. Eat favas and be sexy!
Last, but of course not in any sense least, are all the wonderful ways favas can be prepared. Great as cooked beans as a side dish or in salad, or made into a mash as a base for many dishes like Fave e Cicoria or fava cakes, or dried and eaten as a snack. Or, as the Italians do, include beans roasted or raw in the fruit course. This is that very short season when you can enjoy favas at their freshest. And now here is that famous recipe Peter swears by:
Turkish whole fava bean pods in olive oil (be sure to string the beans):
Put 1 lb. favas and 1/3 to 1/2 cup of olive oil n a cast iron skillet or heavy enameled pot with a tight fitting cover
Heat on a medium flame
Add a chopped yellow onion and a couple of cloves of garlic.
When the garlic and onion are soft, add the bean pods.
Toss in the oil to make sure they’re fully coated
Turn heat to low, cover tightly and cook in the oil (stirring once or twice) for 10 to 15 minutes, until pods begin to turn a little yellow
Then add boiling water to barely cover, the juice of one lemon, a tablespoon of sugar, salt and pepper to taste.
Simmer uncovered on low flame for about 1 to 1 ½ hours, until beans are soft and liquid acquires a syrupy consistency
Let cool to room temperature or close to it.
Serve with chopped dill as garnish, and yoghurt (strained yoghurt is best).