Thursday, March 28, 2013

It Might as Well be Spring

Or so, the calendar says.   Could have fooled me.   The next line to "It might as well be Spring", is, "I'm as restless as a willow in a windstorm".  That's it.   It seems as if we're just being blown around - teased beyond comprehension.  Basta.  I want the weather outside to be friendlier.  The reminder that Spring really and truly is about arrive is the appearance of green vegetables from sunnier, warmer climates: artichokes and fava beans.    I've had a thing for fresh fava beans ever since I ate them for the first time in Italy, decades ago, where they appeared, of all places, piled in a bowl alongside the fresh fruit that was served after dinner with cheese.  What a concept.   The nut-like, slightly farinaceous, fresh fava beans turned out to be just the right company for cheese - especially soft, fresh pecorino - sheep's milk cheese.  However you prepare fava beans - make sure that once they're removed from their plush pod you slip their pale green skin from the bright green bean.

Fava Beans with sheep's Milk Cheese

In the Italian regions; Tuscany and Emilia Romagna, the arrival of fave happily coincides with the arrival of fresh pecorino, a young sheep's milk cheese.   This simple combination can open or close a meal.

Serves 4

4 pounds fava beans, shelled
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1/2 pound fresh pecorino cheese (not the aged pecorino used for grating)
 a baguette from Bonfiglio and Bread in Hudson - or a loaf of the best Mediterranean-style bread available

1.   In a large pot of boiling water, cook the fava beans for 2 minutes.  Immediately plunge them into ice water to halt the cooking.  Slip the skin off each bean .   Put the beans in a large bowl and add the olive oil, lemon juice, and salt and pepper to taste.  Toss together.
2.   Divide the fava beans equally among 4 plates.  Divide the cheese among the plates.  Serve at room temperature with the bread.

note:  If you can't find first-choice fresh favas, it's possible to find frozen ones in some Mediterranean and Middle Eastern grocery shops.  Follow package directions for cooking and removing skin.

Spring Vegetable Medley

I tasted frittella for the first time, in the early spring, in Sicily, when I was a guest at the agricultural estate, Regaleali.  In addition the  world-class wines that the estate produces, the land grows the food that supplies the large Tasca d'Almerita family, and the cooking school founded by the Marchesa Anna Tasca Lanza.   One day, Anna served frittella, made with the stars of the springtime harvest - artichokes, fava beans and peas.   The flavor - sweet, sour, and salty, and texture of the dish were instantly pleasurable.

Serves 6

2 artichokes, about 1 1/2 pounds total weight
1 lemon
1 1/2 cups shelled fava beans (about 2 1/2 pounds in their pods)
1 onion, coarsely chopped
1/4 cup olive oil
3/4 pound peas, shelled, or 1 cup frozen petite pois
1 cup water
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground white pepper
2 tablespoons freshly ground white pepper
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
1 tablespoon sugar

1.   Prepare the artichokes: cut the lemon in half.  Squeeze both halves into a large bowl filled with water.  Work with one artichoke at a time.  Remove the outside leaves from the artichoke by bending them backward and pulling down.  They will snap at the "meaty' point of the leaf.  Pull away the leaves until you see only pale green ones.  Cut away the remaining leaf tops.  Cut the artichoke in half and use a sharp paring knife to remove the fuzzy choke.  Place in the lemon water.   When both artichokes are prepared, thinly slice each half and return the pieces to the lemon water.
2.  In a large pot of boiling water, cook the fava beans for 2 minutes.  Immediately plunge them into ice water to halt the cooking.  Slip the skin off each bean.
3.  In a large skillet or sauté pan over medium heat, sauté the onion in the olive oil until translucent, about 3 minutes.  Add the fava beans and cook for 5 minutes.  Drain the artichokes and add to the pan.  Stir to combine and cook for 5 minutes.   Add the peas, water, salt and pepper.  Cover and cook, Stirring occasionally, until all the vegetables are tender, 15 - 20 minutes.
4.   Add the vinegar and sugar, and stir to dissolve the sugar.  Remove from the heat and serve hot or at room temperature.


Whenever you spot baby artichokes, grab a bunch. They are so easy to prepare - just pull off a few of the tough outside leaves, cut off the spiky ends of the leaves, and cut in half.  They shouldn't have a fuzzy choke, so they're ready to cook.  Braise them, steam them, cook them into a risotto or, my favorite, roast them.   Heat the oven to 350 degrees F., rub some olive oil and flaky sea salt on them and roast 'til crispy, about 15 minutes.   I recently enjoyed roasted artichokes crowded on top of fresh, creamy goat's milk cheese that was smeared on matza.  Oy, so good.

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