Unfortunately for many of us our first introduction to fava beans was the character Hannibal Lecter’s vivid description of how he chose to enjoy them. If we are somehow able to get that disturbing image out of our heads, fava beans have an exquisite taste and happen to be in the grocery store now, but only for a short time.
Fava beans have been around since 6,000 B.C. and are present in virtually every Mediterranean garden due to their natural seeding process, and they are slowly making their way into more American gardens.
The Europeans brought them to this country many years ago, but they have yet to find their way into the mainstream dining scene. Aside from their delicate taste, they are high in iron, zinc, manganese, vitamins and protein, making them an excellent substitute for meat. They are used to make flour, falafel, and some cultures use the inside skin of the bean as a pain reliever and a wart remover. How many foods can you say that about?
The fava bean is rich with myth and tradition. In France and Spain, a fava bean is placed inside the Roscon de Reyes cake, which is served on the Epiphany. Whoever finds the bean must pay for the cake.
Many believe the fava bean is a harbinger of abundance and a good harvest. But there was the occasional doubting Thomas, or in this case a doubting Pythagoras; he condemned the fava bean believing they contained the souls of the dead.
Whatever your take on the fava bean, you might give them a try and don’t listen to those who say peeling them is too much trouble. Remove them from the outer shell, blanch them in boiling water for a minute, and then put them in some ice water. Once they have cooled off the skins pop off with little effort, then you can steam them and serve simply with butter and a touch of salt. The Chianti is optional.