Used in Mediterranean cooking as a green unripe or brown ripe ingredient, as a dressed accompaniment or mashed with olive oil or with bacon and pasta, the broad bean is gradually reasserting itself as an essential ingredient.
Known by southern European countries as the fava, fave, haba or horse bean, modern recipes call for it to be used fresh.
The revival of the fava bean owes much to a disdain for old superstitions. Black fava were believed to contain the soul of the dead. The ancient Romans launched the Feast of the Lemures to chase away the ghosts of the departed, beating a copper pot while spitting out the vile beans.
The green fava bean, always eaten raw or cooked young, had only one function when allowed to dry in many countries, it was replanted to make the new crop.
Just in case!
The white fava or cannelini bean is a recent addition, from America, and is preferred in sausage and bean recipes throughout the Iberian Peninsula, Italy and the Balkans as a dried alternative to the broad bean.
Bacon, gammon, ham, pancetta, prosciutto, belly pork, pork cheek and sausages made with various cuts of the pig compete for the attention of the bean – especially when it is fresh.
In Italy sautéd onions in olive oil are followed by cubes or strips of pancetta until they are crisp. The fresh beans are coated in the oil, and seasoned with pepper. Several tablespoons of water allow the beans to cook gently until tender, between 10 and 20 minutes depending on the size of the beans. There should be no liquid left in the pan when the beans are done. A pinch of salt finishes the dish.
In France the beans are picked early in the season, boiled until tender, fried with bacon cubes in a little flour and some of the cooking water, and finished with two tablespoons of double cream. Béchamel sauce is often added when bacon is used, flour and milk with pork. The French are also inordinately fond of broad beans puréed as an accompaniment with pork.
The Belgians make a variation of the French method, bringing a 500 g piece of bacon or pork gradually to the boil, making a roux and adding some of the meat stock. They add one clove, one bay leaf, a pinch of thyme to the sauce, combining the meat cut up with the cooked beans, serving with boiled whole new potatoes
In Spain the beans are also combined with pork, in a slow-cooked casserole called Fabada featuring chorizo sausage, morcilla black pudding, salt pork belly, smoked gammon, saffron, herbs, spices and olive oil.
In the Balkans the beans are cooked, added to pork crackling, onion, smoked bacon and tomato fried in oil, and baked in a hot oven with chopped garlic, marjoram, parsley and thyme, paprika and pepper.
In Slovenia this recipe takes on a unique flavour with the addition of zaseka, smoked fatty pork belly pieces infused with bay leaves, garlic, peppercorns and salt. They serve their baked broad beans and zaseka sprinkled with sour milk on rye bread, chased by apple cider.
But it is back in Italy that the most traditional of all beans and pork dishes is still popular. Fave al Guanciale – broad beans and pork cheek features in many a Roman trattoria as an antipasto , served with crusty white bread. This is a seasonal dish, served in the spring when the beans are young.
In southern Italy and in Sicily, where the beans continue growing into the summer, it is a main course.
Fave al Guanciale
fresh broad beans with cured pork cheek
- 1 kg fresh young beans, blanched in boiling water, chilled
- 250 g cured pork cheek, sliced
- 1 large onion, chopped finely
- 50 g olive oil
- Black Pepper
- Sea Salt
Fry the onion in the oil until it takes on colour at the edges. Add the pork, coating it in the oil and onion and fry gently for three minutes. Turn the heat down and carefully incorporate the beans. Some chefs like to remove the husks for a sweeter flavour from the beans but it is not necessary. Season with salt and pepper. Pour in enough water to half cover the mixture. Check the tenderness of the beans after ten minutes. They are ready when they are soft to the bite.
Dried fava beans are no substitute for the fresh beans, but you don’t have to visit the shores of the Mediterranean or arrive in Rome in the spring to appreciate this delicacy. Asian stores sell fresh fava and the dried beans are relatively easy to grow.
Tinned broad beans should be avoided. Cooked ham or pork are reliable options but the broad beans must be fresh.
The ratio of beans to bacon should be 2:1, beans to pork to 4:1. Some versions call for both bacon and pork.
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