When this week’s CSA bin arrived, the thing I was most looking forward to was the fresh fava beans. This is an example of an idea that got into my head and has stuck 10 or 15 years. Over the years, I had read a number of recipes in my plethora of Italian cookbooks that spoke of fresh, early-season fava beans — this stuck because like so many of us, I assume, my only previous exposure to fava beans had been dried/soaked (like in Bissara, a Moroccan soup) or those little green and slightly inedible beans you got in the “frozen vegetable mix” so many of us grew up on in our middle class homes.
Anyway, in my recipes, the Italian cooks were drooling between the words in their books and I lamented the fact that a fresh fava bean was something of an anachronism in this country … that is until recently. So when the beans arrived, I knew that this would be my first CSA challenge and I flew to my Italian cookbooks for inspiration.
As you will see from the pictures, the actual edible part of the fava bean is well hidden within the thick soft shells of the bean … and within an equally thick outer ‘skin’ that covers the individual bean. These skins won’t kill you, but they are largely indigestible and detract from the pleasure inside them.
The Sicilian-inspired recipe that follows is super easy — the time is largely spent in extricating these beans from their skins. This accomplished, you’re in for a delicious pasta that is unlike any you’ve had with a pure rustic and earthiness to it (further accented by the addition of the prosciutto and cheese) but which still screams prima vera and “springtime” freshness. While I think the dish excels with the ham (prosciutto), if you omit it, you have a vegetarian main course that still has loads of protein.
Prep time: 60-90 minutes
Cook time: 20 minutes
Total time: 2 hours
Penne with Fava Bean and Fennel Purée (Pasta)
- 1½ + ½ cups of shelled, skinned fava beans (approximately 3lbs unshelled)
→ to make the ½ cup, reserve the smallest fava beans and keep separate from the others
- 2 cups of fennel bulb, largely chopped (1 medium bulb)
→ reserve a few of the fennel fronds (green tops) for garnish
- 2 tablespoons of butter
- 1/2 cup of extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 medium onion, finely chopped
- 6 ounces prosciutto, roughly chopped (optional)
- 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
- sprinkling of cayenne (to taste)
- 1/2 cup of dry white wine
- 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
- 1/4 teaspoon of salt (to taste)
- 1 lb penne (dry weight)
- Freshly grated parmigiano reggiano
- Fennel fronds (green tops) for garnish
- Shell the and peel the fava beans, reserving the smallest separately (approximately ½ cup).
→ These will be added to the sauce whole to provide colour, texture, and to accentuate the fresh fava bean flavour
- Set a pasta pot with a gallon (4 litres) of water to boil.
- Meanwhile, remove the stalks and the course bottom from the fennel bulb so that you only have the bulb remaining. Cut the bulb in half, lengthwise, then, laying it flat, chop it so that the pieces are roughly the same size as the skinned fava beans.
→ Reserve some of the bright green fronds for garnish
- Once the water has come to a boil, place the 1/2 cup of smaller fava beans in the water and par boil them for about 7 minutes. Remove them from the water with a strainer and set aside.
→ DO NOT dump out the water — you will keep using this throughout and until the end.
- In same water, place the remaining fava beans and the fennel in water, and let boil for 10 minutes. Again, without dumping the water, remove the beans and fennel from water with strainer.
- In a blender (or food processor), add the 1½ cups of beans plus the fennel along with the butter and 1/2 cup of olive oil and blend until puréed and smooth. Reserve.
- Add penne to the same boiling water you used to boil the vegetables and follow instructions of the pasta, cooking it until it is al dente.
→ Don’t throw out the water at the end. Reserve the water.
- Meanwhile, heat a large sauté pan over medium-high heat. Add 1/4 cup of olive oil and the onions. Cook for about 3 minutes until the onions have turned a light gold.
→ You’re not caramelizing them in this recipe as this would ruin the presentation of the dish.
- Add the prosciutto and cook for another 2 minutes.
- Add a pinch/sprinkling of cayenne (to your taste, but not too much — the dish isn’t supposed to be spicy) and the white wine to quickly deglaze the pan.
- Add the reserved 1/2 cup of smaller fava beans now and the fava-fennel purée and add approximately 1 cup of reserved pasta water and it is correct consistency.
- Simmer on low for about 5 minutes; add salt to taste.
- Remove pasta from water; do not wash or rinse the pasta but rather simply pull the pasta out, drain it of water, and place it directly into the fava-fennel sauce. Carefully still the pasta into the sauce to ensure all the pasta is covered and mixed in. Add a little extra pasta water if too thick.
- Serve the pasta into bowls and pass over the freshly grated parmigiano reggiano; garnish with fennel fronds and serve.
Wine Pairing: Serve with a dry Italian white wine with decent acidity and a crisp finish (e.g. Vernaccia di San Gimignano).