Phil, a self-professed lima bean hater, was skeptical when he came into the kitchen and peered down at the cutting board. (Yes, he “peered down” – he’s 6’1” and incidentally I’m 5’2.”) Popped from their long velvety green pods, fava beans (another name for broad bean) look a lot like lima beans.
I assured him he’d like the favas, pointing to the finely diced onion and prosciutto melting in a saute pan. Everything tastes better with prosciutto and onion. He went away satisfied.
I’d never cooked fresh fava beans before. I saw them in the grocery store and couldn’t resist the preternaturally large pods. Picking one up, it weighed heavy in my hand and seemed to be covered in short downy fur. I bought two handfuls.
I kept them in my refrigerator for a few days as I plotted their fate. I thought of making an Asturian bean stew called fabada. But I knew I hadn’t bought enough beans for that. Also, it’s a slow-cooking stew, so dried beans are probably best. Nevertheless, I consulted Teresa Barrenechea’s cookbook The Cuisines of Spain, a gorgeous collection of authentic recipes and photographs of food and life in Spain. That’s when I found her recipe for habas rondeñas – fava beans with jamon serrano and hard boiled egg – which she learned to make in Ronda, an Andalusian town perched on a rocky plateau that inspired Czech poet Rainer Maria Rilke to name it “the dreamed-of city.”
The recipe calls for jamon serrano, an addictive dry-cured Spanish ham. However I had prosciutto on hand and it turned out to be a successful substitute. I also left out the hard-boiled eggs (see recipe below).
Preparing the fava beans is a two-step process: First, you shell the beans and blanch them, and then you peel the milky skins off each individual bean. It’s time-consuming. But on a lazy Sunday, with a warm breeze rustling the sheer kitchen curtains, I didn’t mind losing myself in the monotony of the process. And Phil made sure to puncture the time now and again with a slurp in my ear and a Hannibal Lecter line.
Once the beans were prepped, I finished them in the saute pan with the onion and ham. The result was something so irresistible I had to fight Phil for a few spoonfuls. Next time, I’ll definitely buy more beans.
Recipe from The Cuisines of Spain, by Teresa Barrenechea.
- 2 tsp salt
- 3 lbs fresh fava beans in the shell
- ¼ cup olive oil
- 1 yellow onion, finely chopped
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 1 (1/4-inch-thick) slice jamon serrano or other dry-cured ham, about 3 oz., finely diced
- 3 hard-boiled eggs, peeled
- 1 Tbsp chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
Fill a saucepan with water and bring to a boil. Add the salt and the beans and boil for 15 minutes. Drain, reserving one cup of the cooking water. Peel the fresh beans to uncover their sparkling green color.
In a saute pan, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic and saute, stirring frequently, for about 10 minutes, or until the onion is soft and lightly caramelized. Add the jamon serrano and saute for two minutes, or until its fat turns shiny. Add the beans and the reserved cooking liquid, cover, decrease the heat to medium-low, and cook for 15 minutes, or until the beans are tender.
Cut each egg lengthwise into eight wedges, or chop the eggs coarsely. Add the eggs to the beans and mix well. Serve hot, garnished with the parsley.