Friday, May 25, 2007
Fava Bean & Fiddlehead Orecchiette
When I was an underling in the kitchen at a well-known restaurant here in New York, I shucked and shelled a lot of fava beans. And I mean a lot of them. Fortunately it was a task easily mastered – a blessed and fortifying relief considering the multitude of duties I could not yet complete without complication or mishap.
Take quail eggs. The assignment was deceptively simple. “Soft boil and peel this bowl of quail eggs.” But the whites seemed rather more fond of their shells than, say, chicken egg whites are, and, at first peel, the whole thing would dissolve into useless (but delicious) shards. Each time I pass the basket of quail eggs sandwiched between the caviar and the truffles at Garden of Eden, I shudder at the thought of how much it must have actually cost the chef to keep me in the kitchen.
Lobsters comprised another level of horror entirely. The line cook entrusted with my instruction would rip the tails off live lobsters without flinching. “That’s illegal in France!” was all I could sputter – fully aware of the beat down I’d get if any friends or instructors from culinary school saw me acting so squeamishly in a professional kitchen. After a few days of hushed bickering, I was finally permitted to dispatch the lobsters with a sharp blade before I shoved a butter knife up each of the tails to keep them straight and flat on the grill. But it was definitely not cool – a damn waste of time if you asked my line cook.
So fava beans were my respite from shame, and I was terribly anxious when that spring ended and I had to learn to make quenelles of basil mousse for the cold tomato soup instead.
I think in their unadulterated, richly green, oval form, fresh fava beans are inherently soothing anyway. They’ve been cultivated in the Mediterranean for at least 8000 years, and they’re an intrinsic part of the March 19 St. Joseph’s Day celebration for many Sicilian families.
According to legend, in the Middle Ages, St. Joseph saved Sicily from the brink of starvation during a drought. In response to the islanders' prayers, he sent a rain that allowed the fava bean crop to grow. These beans now adorn altars and play a major role in the meatless feast prepared to honor the island’s patron saint each year.
I’ve paired them with fiddlehead ferns and a gently aged goat cheese here. And, though there are a few steps required to prepare the beans, I promise they’re completely stress free – you can shuck, blanch and peel them up to three days in advance, which is an offer I can assure you I never got from the quail eggs.
2 lbs fresh, young fava beans in their pods
extra virgin olive oil
12 oz. dry orecchiette
2 garlic cloves, peeled and sliced very thinly
crushed red pepper flakes
1 lb fresh fiddlehead ferns, stem end trimmed
juice 1 lemon
2 tbsp fresh mint, roughly chopped
1 small aged goat cheese crostada, pulled apart or crumbled
Remove the fava beans from their pods. Bring a large pot of water to a boil and add the beans. Blanch for 1 – 2 minutes, depending on the age of the fava beans. Drain and rinse under very cold water to stop the cooking process. Pinch the outer skin with your thumbnail, and squeeze out the fava bean halves.
Heat a large sauté pan over medium heat and drizzle with a good glug of olive oil. Add the sliced garlic and sprinkle with kosher salt. After a minute, add the fiddlehead ferns and sprinkle with crushed red pepper to taste.
Meanwhile, bring a large pot of well salted water to a boil. Add the orecchiette, stir, and cook, tasting regularly until almost al dente. Drain and add to the fiddlehead ferns with the fava beans and more olive oil. Sauté the pasta until it’s al dente and the fava beans are heated through.
Remove from the heat and toss with the lemon juice, mint, and goat cheese. Adjust the seasoning with salt and more red pepper if desired. Serve immediately.