Monday, May 21, 2012

Around the World...Italy

I’m in love with Italy.

There is no place more romantic, in my mind. When I think of Italy, all sorts of images come to mind: delicious fresh food, luscious fruit-forward red wines, rolling hills of olive orchards, cypress tree-lined country roads undulating through the countryside, multi-generational families dining together at long tables under pergolas of grape vines, lovers and friends gathered at the piazzas in the evenings, laughing and gossiping; the architecture and the history, of course. But what I admire most of all is the Italian’s appreciation for La Dolce Vita (the sweet life), the unhurried way in which they live their lives and savor each day. What is there not to love (aside from the corruption, the country’s general lack of organization, the constant labor strikes, and the Mob)?

I have been fortunate to have travelled to Italia twice. Between the 2 trips, I’ve seen Venice, Florence, Sienna, Pisa, Rome and a lot of little towns in between. I can’t say there is any place I’ve visited that I didn’t just fall in love with and want to move to. Visions of a life similar to Francis Mayes' in "Under the Tuscan Sun" came to mind.

I’m also always game to watch any kind of documentary on the Romans, the Italian Renaissance, the brilliance of Galileo, Da Vinci and Michelangelo. I’m really in love with this place – can you tell?

It should come as no surprise that I really love the food. When I close my eyes while eating Italian food I can take myself back to this country without the expense of actually travelling there. I can go there in my mind and “see” the romantic images that I keep in my mind’s eye. It’s a cheap vacation.

But, since I’m such a fan of all things Italian, I am having a hard time finding the one recipe to post here that exemplifies all that I love about Italian food. What to pick? Dio mio! The choices are endless.
Vicia faba
I decided to venture into unknown territory again, and prepare something new to me: fava beans. Heard of ‘em, seen ‘em, never had ‘em. Can you believe it? And since they are in season this time of year, and were at my Farmer’s Market this weekend, I picked up a few pounds.

Vicia faba, more commonly known as fava beans or broad beans, are not only eaten in the Mediterranean (although, along with lentils, peas, and chickpeas, they are believed to have become part of the eastern Mediterranean diet around 6000 BC). The bean is actually native to north Africa and southwest Asia it, but can be found in countries all around the world: China, Thailand, the Netherlands, Portugal, Greece, Pakistan, Iran, Ethiopia and Egypt. Favas are especially popular in Latin American countries such as Colombia, Peru, and Mexico. But many of us still tend to identify the bean with Italy.
There is a little work getting these to the table. Preparing favas involves first removing the beans from their pods, then parboiling the beans to loosen their exterior coating, and then removing that before cooking. But no matter what you read about favas, they all claim the work is well worth it. So I decided to give it a go.

As you may recall from several previous posts, I love purées. They make great side dishes and healthy dips for vegetables. Fava beans make an incredibly rich purée, perfect to serve in small portions alongside roasted chicken or pork.

Fava Bean Puree

Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 5 minutes
Total Time: 25 minutes
Yield: About 1 1/2 cups Fava Bean Purée


3 - 3 1/2 lbs. fava beans
Sea salt
1 cup chicken stock, vegetable stock, or water
1/3 cup heavy cream
2 Tbsp. butter
Shell fava beans. Bring a medium pot of water to a boil, add enough salt to make it taste as salty as the sea. Blanch beans for about 1 minute. Drain the fava beans and remove the shell from each bean (see step-by-step instructions for shelling fava beans).
Put double-shelled fava beans in the pot with the stock or water. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to a simmer, and cook until favas are very tender, about 5 minutes.
Whirl favas in a blender or food processor with the cream until very smooth. Return to pot and heat to warm, stirring in the butter just before serving.

You can also serve this puree on toasted bread and sprinkle on a little Pecorino or Parmesan, which also sounds good.

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