Fava Beans, called “fave” in Italian (pronounced “fa-vay”), are a centuries-old, archetypal “fast food” that used to be eaten in the fields, sustaining men and women working up to twelve hours in rugged conditions, keeping them going until the long-awaited evening supper.
History of Fava Beans
These green legumes were most likely first grown in Neolithic times, about 6000 years ago, probably in Persia and Egypt; traces of fava beans have been found in the tombs of Egyptian pharaohs. Over the centuries, these beans—along with other legumes such as chickpeas and lentils—became a major part of the Mediterranean diet. Today, fava beans, which flourish in warm weather, are consumed in most of the world’s temperate regions. In Italy, they are grown mostly in the central southern regions, where they are still planted and picked by hand. The seeds are planted in November, and the early harvest starts at the end of March or beginning of April.
Like all other beans and legumes, fava beans (also referred to as “broad beans”) have a very high content of what nutritionists call “perfect proteins”—meaning they are loaded with amino acids; they are also rich in fibers and vitamins A, B, C, K, E, PP and mineral salts. The beans grow inside a pod, which must be shelled in order to eat. The smaller, younger beans can be eaten as is—just shuck them from the pod and pop them into your mouth. Since young fave are more tender and sweet, they are preferable for eating raw. Before eating or cooking the more mature beans, the skin around each bean will need to be removed.
Preparing the Fava Beans
Remove the beans from the pod by bending the tip of the pod and pull down the seam to unzip the entire pod to reveal the beans inside. Discard the fuzzy outer pod.
Drop the shelled beans in boiling salted water for 30 seconds to loosen the outer skin. Remove and place into ice water, and peel off the beans’ thick waxy outer covering.
Now they are ready to use in recipes. The two step shucking process makes any recipe with fava a labor of love, even a simple salad.