Fresh Fava Beans

Fèves Fraîches

[Fresh Fava Beans]

I’d never had fresh fava beans before, so it was a pleasant surprise to discover some in my Campanier basket this week. I decided to have them for lunch the other day.

Boy, do those little guys like to play hard-to-get!

What you initially have are those large, fat, green pods, that look a lot like giant green beans. I had quite a bunch of these.

When you tear one of the pods open, you can see that the inside is lined with a cottony padding, which I thought very pretty and delicate. It’s to protect the fragile little beans, you see.

The beans hang onto the inside of the pod by a sort of membrane, which is easy to detach, and leaves them with a cute hairdo. Unbelievable, the number of veggies among us with punk inclinations. The beans have the characteristic beany shape, oval with a slight depression on one side, and they’re a beautiful pistachio green, with a slightly darker spot in the middle.

So I opened each pod one by one, plucking the beans inside. A little time-consuming, but as is often the case, you get more dexterous by the bean, and I was watching some show on Gourmet TV, so all was right in the world. By that time, the fava beans were still my friend.

But you see, the edible and good part is actually yet one step further, beneath the bitter skin. So fava beans have to be peeled. I peeled one with my fingers, fairly easily, and found a smaller, brighter green bean inside, which divided in two halves.

I had read a tip to make the peeling easier : bring salted water to a boil, dump the unpeeled beans in, leave them in for 30 seconds, then drain and put in a bowl of ice cold water to stop the cooking. This supposedly loosens the skin and makes them easy breezy to peel.

Easy breezy. Hah. You wish. This does loosen the skin, but there is no going around it, you are still in for tearing the skin off of each. single. bean. After a while, I developped a technique which made it slightly faster : you hold the bean with your left hand, depression to the right. With your right thumbnail and your index, you slit a tiny opening in the skin where the depression is. Then, with your left fingers, you press on the skin, and tada, the bean inside is forced out into the open. There. Who’s laughing now.

And so, after easily spending a good half hour doing this, which adds to the twenty minutes it took me to empty the pods, I found myself with an impressive half cup of edible beans. As it happens I was lunching on my own, so it was fine, but what kind of yield is that?

I decided to enjoy the fruit of my labor raw, simply sprinkled with fleur de sel. I already sensed I wasn’t going to put myself in this situation again before quite a while, so I might as well have the purest taste experience. And it did turn out to be absolutely delicious. The beans taste very mild, almost sweet, and the texture is very pleasant, gently crunchy, as your teeth break into each of the green little bean. A few bites of spring.

So I’m delighted to have tried them, I now know I love fresh fava beans. But as Pascale quite rightly pointed out, this is probably a vegetable to have if you can gather a few friends in the garden, sit at a table in the semi-shade under a tree, and chat away while you peel. In the meantime if you don’t mind, I’ll stick to frozen.

  • We had fava beans the other day from our produce box. Melissa loves them but I go long stretches between making them because they’re _such_ a pain.

    I heated up our tiny yield in the broth left from some moules marinieres I made. I like the idea of just sprinkling them with salt; one less cooking step for these multi-step veggies.

  • jo

    I find that when they are little (like the ones on the left hand side of your photo) you needn’t go the extra step to remove the skin. They are still tender. Generally you only need to do that step when they are large say the size of grapes.
    I have also found that when you blanch them, don’t use salt, it makes them tougher. Only salt them as seasoning at the end.
    My Brit husband adores them, so when I can find them here in the states I always get them for him. Such a shame that there is no culinary use for their fuzzy little jackets though. So much goes on the compost heap.

  • Sher

    I agree that you don’t have to remove the skin, if you get them when they are young. I love fava beans so much and each year I tell myself that I will grow them in my garden. So far, I haven’t. But, this Fall–I will for sure!!!

    (I say that every year.)


  • Julie

    I saw this the other day when I was tooling around online looking for a recipe for rhubarb and strawberry crisp…both the crisp and this recipe came from the same episode of Emeril Lagasse’s show (I really can’t stand him, don’t get me started, but sometimes his recipes can work, with a bit of judicious tweaking). Anyway, when I saw your post, I thought I’d send you this — in case more favas come in your campanier basket. Oh, and if you still want a recipe for Asparagus Soup, I’ve got one that I love…it uses leeks, parsley and lemon zest, which add fantastic flavor depth to the asparagus. Let me know and I’ll send it on.

    Fettuccine with Fresh Fava Beans and Pancetta

    Prep Time: 15 minutes [HAH! only if you have slavish employees on your cooking show who prep the fava beans for you!]

    Cook Time: 16 minutes

    Yield: 4 to 6 servings
    2 pounds fresh fava beans, in their shells
    1 pound dried fettuccine
    1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
    1 medium onion, chopped
    1/4 pound thinly sliced pancetta, chopped
    3 cloves garlic, minced
    1/2 head escarole, torn into bite-size pieces
    2 tablespoons heavy cream
    Salt and freshly ground black pepper
    1/2 cup finely grated Pecorino Romano, plus more for passing if desired

    Shell the fava beans and blanch in boiling salted water for 2 minutes. Drain and, when cool enough to handle, slip off the tough outer skin of the beans. Discard skins and reserve beans on the side.

    Heat a large pot of salted water to a boil and cook the fettuccine, stirring often, until al dente.

    While the pasta is cooking, heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onion and pancetta and cook until the onion is soft and the pancetta begins to crisp, about 7 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute. Add the favas and escarole to the pancetta and cook until the beans are tender, about 5 minutes. When the pasta is al dente, drain, reserving 3/4 cup of the cooking liquid. Add the pasta, reserved cooking liquid, and heavy cream to the fava mixture and cook, tossing to mix thoroughly, until everything is heated through. Season to taste with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Garnish with 2 tablespoons grated Pecorino Romano and serve immediately. Pass the extra grated cheese at the table.

  • Superb post Clotilde,
    I love the picture, it looks like a mum with her 3 little cute children.
    In UK, feves are called “broad beans”, I guess “fava beans” must be american.
    Have a good evening.

  • Hey fava beans! (Broad beans in England)

    I third or fourth the small = no peel comment but I have two further solutions.

    1) Blanch as suggested but then instead of slitting and so forth, just pinch one side of the bean hard and squeeze the rest . The skin pops and out shoots the bean (sometimes a little smushed but still tasty). Practice will even allow the bean to shoot into your bowl every time. This is a big time saver over the carefully peel version.

    2) this option only works if you intend to puree the beans and serve them in a form where a little bitter won’t matter so much. I make fava bean hummus with my fava beans and don’t bother to peel – just blend tough skin and all. Recipe will be going up on soon since I made some on the weekend.

    Oh, also fava beans are great to grow if you have a vegetable garden as a winter cover crop. They grow really easily and they have nitrogen producing root nodules so they actually restore the garden soil, plus you get tasty beans. Just pick the beans and rototill the plants right back into the ground. If you can’t do the rototill thing at least cut the plants off leaving the nitrogen-laden roots in the ground.

  • chika

    Oh I *love* fresh feves… a taste of spring/summer, they would be around everywhere at this time of the year in my home town, Tokyo. I’ll cast another vote to the no-peel solution; if you do rather have them peeled, just squeezing a bean to pop it out as you eat will do.

    I like them in pasta or salad, but char-grilled fava beans are excellent, too. Grill washed, unshelled beans, and serve them hot simply with fleur de sel. At the table, shell them and sprinkle with the salt, or if you wish, black pepper, good olive oil and/or parmigiano reggiano will also do a great job. I hope you will have another chance to have those early-summer delights on the table!

  • Erika

    I have to say, favas are the one high-maintenance fresh veg that I think is actually worth all the effort, and onlyworth eating in season.

    My favorite way to eat them is on lightly toasted crusty italian bread. I cook them until just done in boiling water, then lightly mash them with a fruity olive oil, lemon zest or juice, and some good grated pecorino, and spread it on the bread. Yum. Summer on toast. This also works as a pasta toss. Fresh oregano also works.

  • On May 1st in Ancona, Ascoli Piceno –Marche– people eat Fèves Fraîches with pecorino and/or Parma ham. Marvellous.
    Normally I cook Fèves Fraîches with a salmon and thym.

    ::Rotolini di sogliola e salmone al timo.
    Sole and salmon rolls with thyme. ::

    1 salmon fillet
    1 or 2 sole fillet
    1 spring onion or shallot
    several sale leaves
    several thyme leaves
    2 tablespoons of white wine
    olive oil
    salt pepper

    – Slice the sole in two following the longer side
    – Remove the brown part od the salmon and cut it in 4 pieces
    – Chop finely the thyme leaves
    – Spoon the stuffing into each sole fillet (in the white side)
    – Punt a piece of salmon into each sole fillet and roll it
    – In a pan heat one tablespoon of olive oil
    – Add the spring onion chopped, stirr well until gold
    – Gently place the salmon rolls
    – Sprinkle with wine and add the thyme leaves
    – Cook for few minutes covered
    – Add salt and pepper

    Serve it warm or at room temperature
    on a layer of Fèves Fraîches steamed

  • It’s good to know it’s not always necessary to peel those guys, this would definitely save some prep time. And thanks a lot for all the wonderful recipes, I need to lay my hands on more fava/broad beans, very soon!

  • You have to be careful with Fava beans if you are male and have ancestry from the Greek plains, Southern Italy, the Mediterranean coast of Africa, or Central Asia extending into China you have to be careful with these beans.

    Much of the population in those areas have a genetic defense against malaria known as glucose-6-phosphate-dehydrogenase or G6PD deficiency. In up to 20% of these people, favas cause a serious reaction that can lead to death in up to 10% of the sufferers.

    Ironically, it’s thought that the 90% who have this deficiency and eat fava beans gain further immunity from malaria by eating them.

    I was just reading about this last night in Harold McGee’s “On Food and Cooking” and found this page ( that talks about fava beans and the allergic reaction in greater detail.

  • Lisa

    I adore fresh fava beans. I find that the key to successfully enjoying them is to deal with them in stages. For instance, I am making risotto with fava beans and fresh morels tonight. So last night, while enjoying some mindless television, my girlfriend and I shelled and peeled a couple of pounds of beans. They are patiently awaiting me in a plastic container in the fridge. Now when I want to use them tonight, all I have to do is drop the little dears in the pan with the morels and the rice!

  • Barrett – Fascinating info, I’d never heard about that, thanks.

    Lisa – Good strategy, I’ll think about it next time!

  • I agree about the May 1st in Le Marche, Italy, as mentioned previously, but I thought that was in all of Italy. Anyway, yes it’s better to gather with friends and eat them while chatting, that way you don’t notice all of the work you are doing to open the little beans. Last May 1st we all gathered ’round and ate them the way you did, since it is tradition here in Italy (being labor day, I guess that means we can all afford the time to work a little harder to open those fava beans!).

    Love the photos!

  • Jackie– I’m from Piemonte, the land famous for Barolo and Barbaresco, the Alba’s white truffle. On May 1st whe don’t eat fresh fava beans, unfortunatly!!!ciao

  • Penny

    I grow them at the back of my flower beds because we love them and they’re a pretty plant – they are a winter / spring veg in Johannesburg and in season right now – at least half are “stolen” off the plants and the other half make it to the kitchen. I rope in who ever is around to depod them – (or they don’t get to eat any) (note: they can stain your hands – gloves are a good idea) Small freshly picked fava beans don’t need deskinning, are best eated raw, lightly steamed or if you boil them, keep the water to flavour a herby auce – beautifully matched with some sort of light ham dish. ENJOY !

  • Kathleen

    i love gourganes !
    true, when small (taste better) you don’t need to peel them. i enjoy them in a beef broth with barley & onions :) did you know they have a “Festivale de la gourgane” here in Québec ? :)

  • Nancy

    When young enough, treat the fava outer shells like Italian cut green beans. Remove outer string along edges, cut between beans to size, steam lightly and serve with fresh butter, salt and preferred seasonings. Delicious!

  • We just received our bag of fava beans from our CSA, which happens every year. Each year I curse the day, then start shelling beans. I use this recipe:

    And then we swoon because it is so good. I honestly don’t know if the flavor of the favas is very discernible, but I’m not willing to miss my once-a-year chance to use this recipe and find out.

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