Wine Advisor FoodLetter: Roman fava beams

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 Roman fava beans They look a lot like lima beans, but they need more work. They're worth it!
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Roman fava beans

Fava beans, in theory, are a spring vegetable, but I spotted them on menus all over France (where they're called féves) this month, and I've seen them recently in local produce markets (Whole Foods Market, for one) as spring turns into summer.

Favas look a lot like lima beans, but their pesky pods and tough outer skins require a lot more work. For this reason, English-speaking cultures don't seem to embrace them as our Latin cousins do ... but maybe we should, for their filling, "meaty" flavor justifies a bit of effort.

Here's a fairly easy Roman-style version, adapted from a recipe in my old but still available World of Creative Cookery pages,

There's a lot of waste and a lot of work involved with these things - rip off and throw away the outer pod, then painstakingly trim the tough skin from every individual bean, reducing a huge bag of produce to a small bowl of tender, flavorful green beans before you even start to cook. It's still worth it.

This version, based on a Marcella Hazan recipe, follows the Roman tradition. It's a dish so hearty and meaty that it could easily serve as the main course. Omit the pancetta if you prefer a vegetarian version, using a bit of olive oil for sauteeing instead. But if you're an omnivore, the pancetta (unsmoked Italian bacon) adds another dimension of flavor.

INGREDIENTS: (serves 2)

1 1/2 pounds (2/3 kilo) fresh fava beans
1/2 medium sweet onion
2 ounces (60g) pancetta
1 ounce olive oil
1/3 cup (80ml) water


1. Prep the beans. First, shell them out of the pods. Then drop the shelled beans into a pan full of boiling water for just a moment (30 to 60 seconds is plenty). Drain, cool, and then pop each bean out of its tough skin. It's boring work, frankly, but how many different ways are there to say, "It's worth it"?

2. Dice the onion - you want enough to make about 1/3 to 1/2 of a cup - and mince the pancetta.

3. Heat the olive oil in a small pan, add the pancetta, and sautee until the meat is brown and crisp. (Use a little more oil if you're skipping the meat step.) Add the onions and sautee until they start to brown.

4. Add the shelled and peeled fava beans and stir once or twice so they're coated with the oil and browned onions. Add the water and salt and pepper to taste. Cover, reduce heat to very low, and simmer over low heat for about 10 minutes or until the beans are just tender. Remove the cover and, if necessary, increase heat just long enough to boil off any excess liquid. Plate and serve.

If you use this as a side dish, match your wine to the main course. For a direct match, I'd go with any of the rich Southern Italian whites that I often report on with affection: Falanghina, Greco di Tufo or Fiano di Avellino, or similar rich whites from the Southern Rhone and Provence or the equivalent "Rhone Ranger" styles from the U.S. and Australia.

Want a copy that's easy to use in the kitchen? You'll find a simple, plain-text version of this recipe, suitable for printing, online at

If you have questions, comments or ideas to share about this recipe or food and cookery in general, you're welcome to drop by our Food Lovers' Discussion Group, where I've posted this article as a new topic, "FoodLetter: Roman fava beans,"

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Last week's Wine Advisor Foodletter: Pasta with asparagus (June 16, 2005)

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Thursday, June 23, 2005
Copyright 2005 by Robin Garr. All rights reserved.

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