Spring is in full swing. Last spring, when we were in Marche, Italy, fava beans were coming into the local farm stands right about this time of year. In Southern California, you can find them ready to shell at local certified farmers markets in April and May. This spring I planted fava beans early in Los Angeles—before the end of January—and began harvesting them in March. This salad was one of our favorite ways to use the abundant favas that we picked from our front-yard bed!
Fava beans are a labor of love. You need to free them from their husks; then par-boil them; then free the individual beans from their skins. This isn’t as hard as it sounds, as you’ll see in the instructions below. It is a perfect activity for two people chatting across the table and mindlessly shelling favas.
Occasionally favas will be cooked with the outer shell intact (not the husk, like a pea husk, but the shell on each bean that is usually removed by first par-boiling the husked beans), but they have to be cooked for so long to get the outer shell soft that to my palate they taste overcooked—and look grey. Removing the outer shell yields a bright green bean that is full of a bright flavor that to me shouts “springtime!” in every bite. That is why they are worth all the effort it takes to get from large, thick fava husks to the bright, tasty bean way inside!
Farro is another ingredient that gets overlooked in America. It’s a wonderfully nutty, chewy wheat grain that cooks just like pasta. Dry-toasting farro before cooking it really brings out its nutty taste. You can cook farro in a typical Japanese rice maker: just select the “brown rice” setting.
These two less-common ingredients, when combined with pancetta, kale and a lightly fried egg, make the perfect light dinner or Springtime lunch.
- 1 cup dried farro
- 2 cups chicken stock (homemade if possible)
- ¼ lb pancetta, diced
- 1 bunch Tuscan kale, stems removed and sliced into ribbons
- ½ lb Pecorino Romano cheese, cut into small cubes
- 1 big basket of fava beans in husks (about 2-3 lbs)
- 4 farm fresh or organic eggs
- 1 bunch scallions
- Olive oil
- Red wine vinegar
- Salt and pepper
- Dry toast the farro: place in a dry skillet pan over medium heat and swirl occasionally for about 5 minutes. Be careful not to burn the grains. Pour out into a bowl to stop the cooking process.
- Place the farro in a pot with 2 cups of chicken broth. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Bring the farro to a slow boil and then reduce to a simmer. Cook for about 30 minutes, until the farro is soft but chewy. (Alternatively, you can use a Japanese rice cooker. Cook using normal directions using the brown rice setting).
- In the meantime, in a skillet over medium heat, start with a drop of olive oil to help the cooking process get started, add the pancetta, and render the fat from the pancetta by slowly cooking it and stirring. Eventually it will cook to a crispy exterior, but first you want to slowly melt the fat. Brown until crispy.
- Once the pancetta is cooked, remove to a mixing bowl retaining the rendered fat. Add the prepared kale and wilt in the fat. Season with salt and pepper. When wilted, put in the same bowl as the pancetta.
- Prepare the fava beans by first removing the beans from the thick husks. Then prepare a pot of well-salted boiling water. Also prepare an ice-water bath to receive the beans. Plunge the beans into the boiling water until the yellowish color is gone from the beans. Strain and plunge into the ice bath. Drain the beans the shell them; freeing the bean from the thin outer shell. Lightly drain the beans with a paper towel and add to the pancetta and kale mixture.
- Add the diced pecorino, along with the cooked farro, to the fava, pancetta and kale mixture. Toss well, add a tablespoon of olive oil and a tiny splash of red wine vinegar, and toss to combine. Season with salt and pepper.
- Prepare the scallions for the decoration by cutting several 4-inch sections of the green top parts. Run a sharp knife along the section to create long thin pieces. Place in an ice-bath to curl.
- Plate the farro salad into shallow bowls. Using a non-stick skillet with a little olive oil, lightly fry an egg for each plate. Salt and pepper the egg as it’s cooking. Cook until the white is firm but the yolk is runny. Sometimes covering the pan helps this process.
- Gently transfer the egg to the top of the salad and top with dried scallions to serve.