Sweet Pea and Fava Crostini with Herbs and Ricotta
More with Pace da Poggio Etrusco Extra Virgin Olive Oil
The baby vegetables are in the Farmer’s Markets. The herb garden is planted, and tiny peas in their pods have made an appearance. My mint plants are already giving forth, their new leaves packed with fresh flavor. Spring has arrived, and with it have come the fava beans.
Travails with Fave or Size Does Matter
Preparing fave (FAH-vay, plural of fava) is a labor or love, or so some people say. The preparation of this member of the Fabaceae (bean family) is a point of great contention among the cooking community and for a time, a source of plunging self-esteem for me. To peel or not to peel? That is the question. The Great Fava Bean Debate of 2013 rages on. For years I labored (or not, depending on one’s point of view) in blissful ignorance of the aforementioned debate, happily zipping open the fava pods, removing the tiny beans from their downy resting spots and eating them. For me there was no third step. You know the one, the part where you peel the beans.
In the garden or at the market I selected firm, bright green pods, free of marks or blemishes. Patient harvesting or careful shopping rewarded me with tiny beans, sweet and tender, about the size of my little fingernail. I never bothered with the larger beans, having always thought them better suited to the compost heap than a diner’s stomach.
However there came a point at which I realized that everyone, food writers and friends alike, even food writing friends, was talking about peeling the fave. A terrible unease set in, the kind of self-doubt in which I specialize. Could I possibly be so rustica, so out of touch with civilized culinary technique? It seemed that everyone peeled those little beans before consuming them, whether raw or cooked. Then one day just a few weeks ago I was rescued from the ignominy of bean preparation inadequacy by none other than food writer Nancy Harmon Jenkins. She came down on the side of not to peel. Despite some formidable opposition, chief among them Paula Wolfert, Nancy stuck to her guns. There is no need to peel, she declared. It is simply a matter of knowing how to pick fave, and you should pick them young. Thanks, Nancy. A girl needs her heroes.
Fava, Baby Pea and Ricotta Crostini
makes about 14, depending on width of loaf
I’ve still been experimenting and enjoying Pace da Poggio Etrusco Olive Oil made by American expat food writer Pamela Sheldon Johns at her home in Montepulciano, Tuscany. The oil is among a selection I received for review from Olio2go, one of the nation’s largest retailers of Italian extra virgin olive oils. The swanky oil’s herbal notes and fresh fruity flavor marry beautifully with this eye-catching antipasto, lifting the flavors and lending a succulence that is nothing short of amazing. A touch of pizzico (the prized burn at the back of one’s throat) makes this a sensational start to a spring meal.
If you can not find fave, use peas. You may wish to increase the lemon juice slightly, however. Taste and check, adding a bit more juice, ¼ teaspoon at a time, if you find the topping too sweet.
This mixture is also great tossed with spaghetti. Add a tablespoon or two extra of Pace da Poggio Etrusco olive oil to loosen it a bit. Combine with the hot spaghetti, adding ¼ cup of pasta water at a time, tossing until the spaghetti is well coated. Top with more chopped herbs and a drizzle of Tuscan oil. Grate Pecorino over the dressed pasta and serve.
baguette or country bread, sliced on bias into pieces about ⅜ inch thick
4 oz. small shelled fava beans (about 8-9 oz. in their pods)
4 oz. young green peas, frozen or fresh
¾ cup whole milk ricotta cheese
1 tablespoon chopped mint
2 tablespoons chopped basil
1-2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
shaved Pecorino Toscano OR Pecorino Romano cheese
2 garlic cloves, peeled and cut in half lengthwise
Pace da Poggio Etrusco Extra Virgin Olive oil
kosher salt and black pepper, to taste
Shell the beans by bending the tip and unzipping the pod to expose the interior and the beans. Remove the beans and discard the pod.
Peel if you must. See Food Nerd Notes for three methods.
Unless the beans and the peas are quite small and tender, I cook them briefly. Fill a 4-quart saucepan half full with water. Bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce to a simmer, add the beans and boil gently until tender, about 3 to 5 minutes. Cooking time will vary depending on the size of the beans. Just before the fave are done, add the peas to the saucepan and boil for 30 seconds. Transfer the fave and peas to a bowl of ice water to stop the cooking. Drain and set them on towels to dry.
Reserve 2 tablespoons of whole peas to garnish the crostini. Coarsely chop the fave and peas together and transfer to a medium bowl. Add the ricotta, chopped herbs, ½ teaspoon lemon juice, ¼ teaspoon each of kosher salt and black pepper, and 2 tablespoons of Pace da Poggio Etrusco oil. Stir gently to blend. Check for seasoning, adding more salt, pepper or lemon juice, if desired.
Preheat a grill pan for 5 minutes over medium heat. Grill the bread slices until warm and very lightly marked on both sides. As the bread is heating, peel the garlic cloves and cut them in half lengthwise. Remove the bread from the grill pan, and rub one side lightly with the cut garlic. Lightly drizzle olive oil over the garlic rubbed side of the bread.
Spread the ricotta mixture on the garlic rubbed surface of each piece of bread, leaving a few indentations on the surface of the ricotta. Arrange the crostini on a serving plate. Top each piece with a few of the reserved peas, pressing them in gently. Drizzle lightly with olive oil, letting a bit of oil pool in the indentations. Use a vegetable peeler to shave Pecorino Toscano over the crostini. Serve.
Food Nerd Notes: Here are three methods for peeling fave. The first comes courtesy of Ciao Chow Linda. Place the beans on a sheet pan and freeze for 8 to 10 minutes. Remove the beans from the freezer, and pull off and discard the outer skin. If the skin does not slip off easily, let the beans defrost a moment, and success will be yours. Click to see Linda’s photo essay and to see her take on a fava bean antipasto.
The second method is to drop the beans into boiling water for 1 to 4 minutes (opinions vary) during which time their skins will loosen. Remove the beans from the boiling water and plunge them into a bowl of ice water to shock them and stop the cooking. Remove the beans from the ice water. The outer skin can now be easily removed, and the beans are ready to eat raw or cook further.
The third method is to drop the entire pod, still containing the beans, into boiling water and boil for 1 to 2 minutes. Transfer the pods to an ice water bath to shock them and stop further cooking. Remove the pods from the ice water. Zip open the pods and remove the beans. Remove the skins.
Click to visit Erica de Mane and read of her travails with fave, find out where she comes down in the Great Debate and get her recipe for Fava, Chicory and Tarragon Salad.
Pace da Poggio Etrusco Extra Virgin Olive Oil is available online from Olio2go, 8400 Hilltop Road, Suite H, Fairfax, VA 22031 866-Olio2go (866-654-6246) It is supplied in 500 ml. stainless steel tins. The cost is $32.95, plus shipping.
Note: You can click on any picture for a slide show!
Disclosure: I received the product mentioned above for free. I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will be good for my readers. I otherwise have no affiliation with any product, manufacturer, or site mentioned in this article.