One of the farmers at the market last week had fava beans. For centuries, the fava bean was the only bean available in Europe, or so I have been informed. It was only post-Columbus that other beans made their way into European diets. And how relieved those poor European housewives must have been.
For here's what you do with a fava bean (the first time I dealt with one I was incredulous. Really? I said. Really?) You slit open the seam of one of those big fat pods, so giant they look as if they'd be good only as horse fodder. It helps to nick off the top of the bean with a paring knife and then pull the string down to the other end. But even then you'll need to run the knife along the seam before you can open the pod. These beans are tough.
When you open up the bean you find it lined with fluffy, puffy white cotton, a cushy bed for the actual two or three or four beans that recline like pampered babies in their soft cradle. Remove the beans and discard the pods. Maybe feed the pods to a cow or a horse if you have one. Or a goat.
From a pound of pods you'll get about one-third of a pound of beans. But wait. They aren't ready to eat yet. Each bean is covered with a skin that must be removed. (Some say it is edible when the beans are quite young. Maybe.)
Bring a little pot of water to a boil and add the beans, cooking them for thirty seconds or a little longer. Now drain them and plunge them into a bowl of ice water. One by one, nick the skin near the top of each bean where it's thickest and squeeze the skin so that the bright green bean slide out. And there you are. That's the part you eat. Talk about labor-intensive!
You can add these to a salad (some of the authentic Salade Nicoise recipes insist on fava beans) or eat them just as they are, freshly popped from their skins. When we were in the south of France years ago, stalls at local fairs sold little plates of parboiled but not skinned fava beans, with a little hill of coarse salt to dip the beans in.
Food blog: http://fastandfearlesscooking.blogspot.ca