Fava Beans: Rigatoni with Fava Beans and Fresh Ricotta

There are a few veggies that scream spring – asparagus comes immediately to mind. But of all the treats that come to our local farmers market at this time of year, fava beans may be the most welcome. We discovered them when we moved to California years ago and we were hooked right away. Our neighborhood farmers market had beautiful, fresh favas just begging to go home with us and we were helpless to resist.

Our local organic farmers can be counted on to produce plenty of these beautiful legumes. Favas are good sources of Riboflavin, Niacin, Phosphorus and Patassium as well as Folate, Copper and Manganese. They’re also relatively protein rich. But unlike other beans, fresh favas aren’t a terribly good source of fiber.

Preparing favas can be a pain in the ass. The pods, while edible, aren’t the point. The jewel we eat is buried deep inside a shell inside the pod. Getting the beans out of the pod isn’t the problem. It’s that shell around the tender green bean that drives you nuts. We suggest blanching them first to make those shells softer and thus easier to remove. If you blanch before peeling, you’ll have a much easier time of it. What’s left after all the work of shelling, blanching and peeling is a tender, beautiful green flat bean that is delicious either raw or lightly cooked.

Favas are great on their own with a little butter or olive oil and salt. We like to use them in risotto in place of spring peas or asparagus, added near the end just before serving to preserve their fresh taste and delicate texture. Here, we pair them with fresh ricotta and mint in a classic pairing, tossed in pasta and finished with a bit of fresh lemon zest and cracked black pepper.

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Rigatoni with Fava Beans and Fresh Ricotta

3 pounds fresh fava beans unshelled (about 1 pound shelled fresh fava beans)
8 ounces rigatoni
2 tablespoons + 2 tablespoons olive oil
2 leeks, well cleaned and minced
10-15 fresh torn mint leaves
Zest of one lemon
1 cup fresh ricotta

Bring a large pot of water to a boil, this will be used to blanch the fava beans and cook the pasta.

Remove the fava beans from the pods and place the beans in a bowl. When the water comes to a boil add a couple tablespoons of salt and then add the fava beans. Blanch the beans for 1 minute then remove from the water using a mesh slotted spoon or a small mesh strainer. When the beans are cool enough to handle, 1-2 minutes, gently tear the top of the pod using your finger and gently press the bean out of the shell. Place the beans in a small bowl and set aside.

Bring the water back up to a rapid bowl and add the dry pasta, cook according to the directions, 8-12 minutes.

In a medium sauté pan over medium heat, add two tablespoons of olive oil and bring up to heat. Add the leeks and sauté until translucent, about 4-6 minutes, do not brown the leeks. Add the fava beans and cook for 2-3 minutes.

Once the pasta is done, drain in a colander and place the pasta back into the pot. Add the sautéed leeks and fava beans. Add the remaining two tablespoons olive oil, plus more if needed, to the pasta and season with salt and pepper. Add the mint and the lemon zest.

Either plate the pasta or place the pasta in serving bowl, and top with the fresh ricotta cheese, about 1/4 cup per serving.

Noodle Mania

Top (Left to Right) Spinach Fettucini, red peppers and shiitake mushrooms. Asian Noodles with bok choy and mushrooms. Bottom (Left to Right) Fettucini with summer squash, basil and tomato. Asian soup with rice noodles and shredded Napa cabbage.

How many times have you come home from grocery shopping feeling hungry, looked at what you just purchased and asked yourself “What is there to eat?” If you purchase bulk items – vegetables, beans, rice – you know, the staples, you always need to factor in some time to prepare your meals from these basic ingredients. Making dishes in large batches and then storing them in meal-sized portions makes a lot of sense and takes the guess work out of weeknight meals. We used to keep soup and other items stored in the freezer for just this occasion, but since going plastic free we have had some difficulty finding a substitution for Zip-loc bags. If anyone has a non-plastic freezer-safe suggestion please let us know.

There is always one go-to item that’s easy to prepare, can be made in a variety of ways, and takes less time than heading to the nearest fast-food joint (unless of course you live just above one). I’m talking about pasta! That wonderful, versatile, shape-shifting, flour, water (and sometimes egg) concoction with names like ziti, penne, and spaghetti. With a range of flours and grains used to make this unique and tasty food, everyone can enjoy what has been a staple in so many food traditions around the world for centuries. The invention of pasta is often credited to the Italians but cultures around the world have been making their own version for thousands of years. While debated, the noodle likely made its way to Italy via trade with Arabs in the Middle East. Recent archeology suggests the Chinese were first to the noodle making craft. The Japanese have soba and ramen noodles. The Chinese have chow fun noodles. The Vietnamese have bun (rice vermicelli). In Europe, the Italians aren’t alone in their adoration of the noodle. The Germans have Spätzle which is very pasta-like and takes to a myriad of sauces.

With some dried pasta and a few items from your cupboard a wonderful meal can be prepared in the time it takes to cook the pasta. Olive oil, anchovies, olives, capers, lemon zest, and parmesan cheese make a wonderful and salty sauce. Heat the olive oil in a sauté pan, add the anchovies, olives and capers. Mix in the cooked pasta with a little pasta water add the lemon zest and grated parmesan cheese and Voila! You’re eating like an Italian.

Want a quick hearty soup? Heat up some broth, add soy sauce, throw in a mixture of equally sized cut vegetables (carrots, broccoli, zucchini, squash, celery, etc.), and heat until the vegetables are cooked. Throw in some left-over chicken or beef, or even a raw egg or two that will scramble in the broth, then add some cooked soba or ramen noodles, and a handful or two of green leafy vegetable, such as spinach, or watercress. Top with a drizzle of sesame oil and enjoy.

If you want soup but don’t want to go the soy route, add savory herbs like oregano, thyme or sage and a bay leaf to the broth instead (dry herbs work just fine here) and toss in a handful of orzo, pan fried broken spaghetti or any short shaped pasta and you’ve got yourself a bowl of something reminiscent of the Mediterranean. With a dusting of fresh chopped parsley and a little extra-virgin olive oil drizzled on top, you’ll think you’ve just plated something special from your favorite Italian trattoria.

These aren’t really recipes. It’s called making do with what you have in your kitchen. Be creative and try new things. Read recipes for inspiration and then break the rules. Be fearless! It’s only food after all. Just make sure you eat what you make and don’t be wasteful.

A good rule of thumb is that almost anything goes well with pasta, even peanut butter! The peanut noodle recipe that follows is a household favorite around here. The sauce is so simple to prepare but the flavors of the finished dish are rich and complex. We’d take this Asian inspired comfort dish over microwave dinners any night of the week.

Peanut Noodles

Spaghetti or Rice Vermicelli

¼ cup peanut butter (best to use a non-sweetened, organic variety)

3 tbsp soy sauce

Hot water

1 clove fresh garlic, mashed

1 tsp sugar

1 tbsp rice vinegar

Dash of cayenne pepper

1 cup diced or julienned cucumber, seeds removed

While pasta is cooking, heat water and add all sauce ingredients to a mixing bowl and stir until sauce is thick but fluid enough to coat pasta. Once pasta is cooked, be sure to reserve some of the water and then drain. Place pasta back into the pan and toss with peanut sauce.  Place in bowls and top with cucumber.