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.

ForageSF Dinner: Friday, July 16, 2010

Our dinner wines.

ForageSF’s underground dinners are a thing of legend in this town. After hearing about these things for several months, we finally landed seats at Friday’s iteration of the secretive sit-down feast. The nearly 5 hour, 8 course (9 if you count the amuse bouche) meal brought an eclectic mix of food enthusiasts together for an evening of locally foraged delicacies. And that’s the point. The genius behind ForageSF, Iso Rabins, is passionate about his “mission to connect Bay Area dwellers with the wild food that is all around them.” The foods presented to diners are “collected” from San Francisco Bay Area sources – wooded land, the ocean, public spaces. Most of the food is wild. The fruits come from local trees that haven’t been touched by pesticides. All of it harvested sustainably.

With low lighting, spare but tastefully set communal tables and the wines we brought with us, we sat down for a fascinating culinary romp through the season’s best. Our buddy Paul joined us on this, our first ForageSF dinner adventure. It was a delightful evening of good food and great friends!

The Menu

[Paired with a 2008 Bonterra Vineyards Chardonnay made from organic Mendocino grapes.]

Amuse Bouche. Toasted baguette with bay laurel butter.

We started with an amuse bouche of toasted slices of baguette that were generously doused with butter infused with locally picked bay laurel leaves. It was a simple, savory and oh so tasty beginning hinting of interesting fare to follow. The party of ladies sharing our table wasn’t as impressed as we were.

What followed was a redux of a ForageSF favorite–Stinging Nettle Soup. We loved it. The broth was savory and perfectly seasoned. Pureed nettles and crème fraiche were artfully drizzled over the base. From first taste to last spoonful, this soup was a winner. We understood why it continues to show up on the menu. It was a beautiful soup.

Nettle soup with crème fraiche.

Porcini-infused polenta came to the table next paired with in-season heirloom tomatoes and thin slices of porcinis. The flavor of porcini in the polenta was subtle and we thought the dish needed a little something more. Maybe some local crunchy sea salt sprinkled on top?

Yellow tail sashimi with tempura seabeans.

The yellow tail sashimi that came next was paired with tempura-fried sea beans from Bolinas (delicious) and wild nori picked off the rocks of Pescadero. Yellow tail is sinewy and the cubes of raw fish were chewy and unpleasant. Sashimi should be thinly sliced to be tender and not tough. The dressing needed to be bigger and bolder, but it was flavorless. The seaweed was fresh and seemed to delight people who like that sort of thing. Jason loved it. Me? Not so much (I’m not a big fan of seaweed). I thought this was the biggest “miss” of the evening, but could have been so much more if properly prepared.

[Paired with a 2008 Hamilton-Stevens Pinot Noir from the Russian River valley.]

Roasted marrow bone.

Roasted marrowbones were delicious paired with paper-thin fennel, fennel fronds and pickled sea beans and toast. Marrow is one of those things you either love or hate. These Marin Sun Farms marrowbones were awesome! I could have eaten them all night, but their extra rich profile would have done me in had I not moved on to the next course.

Fresh ricotta, foraged figs from Berkeley, fennel pollen, pea tendrils and fava beans – wow! The cheese was perfect as were the favas. This was one of the best dishes of the evening.

Fresh ricotta with fava beans and sliced fig.

The showstopper came next as our servers presented plates of risotto blackened with squid ink and topped with smoked cod, asparagus and wild morels. Seriously! This dish was rich and hearty. The risotto was perfectly al dente. The squid ink adds subtle briny flavor that paired perfectly with the smoky flakes of fish. Asparagus provided balance in what could have been an overly flavorful dish. The morels? Well, nobody says “no” to fresh wild morels.

Squid ink risotto with smoked cod, asparagus, and morrel mushrooms.

As the meal wound down, we were served a salad of mixed greens and roasted red and yellow beets and, you guessed it, more sea beans. This was the perfect palate cleanser after the hearty risotto. The vinaigrette was simple – a welcome companion to the delicious beets.

Our meal ended with a trio of foraged fruit sorbets – loquat, citrus and plum. They were paired with an unidentified green that tasted of licorice or maybe tarragon, and a ginger snap cookie. The sorbets were delicious and the perfect ending of a long rich meal.

A trio of sorbets. A little melting but still very good.

Our compliments to the cooks and the servers. The meal was intimate and memorable. Stay tuned for future wild meal stories. If you get the chance to indulge in one of these amazing community meals, we recommend you take it. We happily recommend the experience and promise to keep the locale a secret!