As I’m writing this, I’m sitting in a 3rd floor apartment overlooking a canal in Venice, Italy. It’s owned by the Contessa da Schio, whose family has lived in this building for six generations. We are staying here to attend Mark’s 40th architecture class reunion; Palazzetto da Schio was also the site of the 20th and 30th reunions of the same class that originally studied in Venice in 1980. We finally made it here (40th reunion in the 42nd year) after the reunion was delayed two years due to the pandemic. Everything in Venice is alive and beautiful—coming back to life after a long hiatus. Art and historic architecture are everywhere, as well as springtime flowers (ancient wisteria in full bloom twisting around trees and draping over walls) and vegetables.
Still, everything we’ve seen so far in Italy is a few weeks behind the springtime we left behind in Los Angeles, from our cutting flowers to lettuce, artichokes and fava beans. Tomatoes are now in the ground there, as well as summer poll beans and basil. Before we left, we harvested and ate our entire bounty of fava beans from our home urban garden, whereas here in Venice fava beans are on every menu. To use our harvest before our departure, I made this pasta dish and a light and fluffy frittata. These little beauties are really springtime on a plate.
If you have access to fresh fava beans, this recipe is for you. If not, you can use fresh peas or cooked and chopped asparagus. I like to pair fava beans with a great and little-known Italian cheese: ricotta salata. This cheese is a crumbly and salted sheep’s milk cheese. It’s usually imported from Sicily and can come as a cone or a block. Even though it’s crumbly, it’s easy to grate. It is a very salty cheese so you can leave salt out of the rest of this dish.
May 1 is the Italian (and European) version of the U.S. Labor Day. The traditional food to eat is freshly picked raw fava beans and young pecorino cheese.Print
- 2 lbs. unshelled fresh fava beans (or 1 cup cooked peas or steamed and chopped fresh asparagus, skip step #1)
- 2 cups freshly grated ricotta salata cheese (buy a nice big chunk and use leftover on other pasta dishes)
- ¼ lb. pancetta, diced into ¼-inch pieces
- 1 lb. long dry pasta (e.g, spaghetti, linguine or bucatini)
- Very good quality extra-virgin olive oil
- Freshly ground pepper
- Prepare an ice water bath. Shell the fava beans, discarding the tough outer husks. Boil the fava beans in salted water for 2 minutes or so until the bright green beans start to turn pale yellow. Drain the beans and plunge into the ice water bath to cool. Drain and then pinch each fava bean using your fingernail to free each super-green fava bean from the interior shell into a bowl.
- In a large sauté pan, heat 1 tbsp of olive oil over a medium-low heat. Add the pancetta and slowly render the fat out until the pancetta is nicely crispy, stirring frequently. Let the fat slowly render—otherwise you will seal the fat into the pancetta.
- Meanwhile, set a large pot of liberally salted water on high heat. When fully boiling, add the dry pasta and stir. When the water returns to a boil. cook to 1-2 minutes short of the package directions. The pasta should still be slightly chewy, but not taste of flour.
- Reserve 1 cup of the pasta water and drain the pasta. Add it to the sauté pan and stir into the pancetta and rendered fat for 1 minute.
- Add half the grated ricotta salata and the prepared fava beans. Use tongs or 2 wooden spoons to toss it all together. If too dry, add some of the pasta water.
- Drizzle olive oil and grind pepper over the pasta and toss. Taste the pasta and add more olive oil and pepper as you like.
- Serve and top with the remaining grated ricotta salata.