We didn’t know what to do with the fava beans we picked up at the CSA this past week. We’re not sure that we’ve ever even had fava beans before, so it was all new to us. The very next day, our paper printed a recipe for Spaghetti with Fava Beans, Mint, and Garlic, by Mario Batali. Talk about serendipity! We felt that the universe was looking out for us and this was a sign. We had to make it.
Now, we didn’t have the amount of beans that the recipe called for, but, that was okay, because the recipe served 4 to 6, so we could just scale everything back to fit the amount of beans that we had. We’ll list amounts for the original recipe, adjusted for our tastes (we cut the garlic in half; it was too much); just realize that the amounts you see in the pictures are less than if you make the full recipe. The other change we made was to use fresh Beet Pasta cut into fettuccine in place of the spaghetti.
No fava beans? Try using peas, instead. For the pasta, we used fresh because we love it, but store-bought will be good, too. Consider using a fun shape, such as gemelli (our favorite). You really don’t need to use extra-virgin olive oil in this recipe. You’ll be getting it pretty hot and it’ll lose it’s flavor. Any mild oil will work. We did use EVOO, though. Finally, Pecorino Romano is a sharp sheep’s cheese, but you can substitute another strong flavored hard cheese, if you wish.
Procedure in detail:
Shell beans. It’s all about getting the beans ready for this dish. First, shell the beans. The easiest way is to snap the tip off the pod and pull downward, taking the tough strand along the edge with it and, in effect, unzipping the shell. Pop out the beans. Sometimes it doesn’t work, and you have to try the other end. Or even just splitting it open as you work. Every pod is individual.
Blanch beans. Bring a kettle of salted water to a boil. Add beans and cook for 3 minutes. This will blanch the beans and loosen up the tough skin that surrounds them.
Skin beans. After three minutes, drain the beans and rinse with cold water to cool. Once cool, take each bean and squeeze between your finger and thumb. The bean should pop out of its skin. Sometimes we had to tear the skin a bit to get the popping action started. Discard the skins. Good thing we don’t have a lot of beans to process.
Cook garlic and red pepper. Place the oil, garlic, and red pepper in a large skillet over low heat. After a few minutes, the oil will start to bubble just a bit around the garlic. Stir and continue to cook over low heat until the garlic is tender, 7 to 10 minutes. Remove from heat and add the prepared beans.
Boil pasta. Bring a large kettle of salted water to a full rolling boil. Add pasta and cook until 1 minute remains before the pasta is cooked to perfection.
Scoop pasta water. Scoop 1/4 cup of that magic pasta water from the boiling pasta and add it to the bean mixture in the skillet. Well, the water isn’t really magic, but it does have salt and starch in it, making it slightly flavorful and it’ll help thicken sauces.
Drain the pasta completely in a colander. What else can we say?
Toss and serve. Place the bean mixture over high heat. When the pasta water starts to boil, add the pasta and the mint leaves and toss until everything is thoroughly heated and coated, about 45 seconds. Divide among warmed bowls and top with grated Pecorino Romano.
Since this recipe comes from a famous chef, we tried to follow it as closely as we could. But, we do have a few suggestions that will make it better. Both of these are reflected in the instructions above; that way, your dish will taste great. We think this has too much garlic, so we cut it back somewhat (2-3 cloves instead of 6). Also, don’t cook the garlic until it’s slightly browned; that makes it taste slightly bitter and off. Not good. Go with a slow, light cooking to flavor the oil. Without the changes, this dish is merely average and we’d rate it three stars. Make it as we suggest and get four.