Fresh Fava Beans with Polenta

Fava beans, also called broad beans, have a soft, creamy texture and delicate flavour. Where I live, they are generally only available in spring, and this year, it was Easter weekend when I first spotted them at my local farmers market. But it snowed that weekend so it sure didn’t feel like spring at all.

I made this recipe and then forgot about it because it wasn’t the way I had planned to cook the the fav beans. My intention was to marinate the pods and grill them whole, on the barbecue but I wasn’t keen on standing outside in the cold in an inch of snow, even if they do cook quite quickly. So, I came up with this recipe instead – coarsely pureed fava beans with garlic and chillies served on a bed of creamy polenta and topped with fresh parsley, basil and scallions! Divinely comforting! 

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Fava beans grow in pods and depending on the variety, each pod will contain four to eight beans inside. The pods are easily opened but each bean is enclosed in a bitter tasting skin that you’ll most likely want to remove. The peeling process sounds much more finicky than it  is.  There’s actually nothing to it and since fava beans are a good source of protein, vitamins and minerals as well as being high in fibre and iron, the task is well worth the effort for their nutritional benefits alone. Don’t be put off by the thought of having to peel them, essentially twice. 

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Because fresh fava beans have a short season (late March to late May), I tend to grab these super-tasty delicacies when I see them. And they don’t store well, so you should eat them as soon as possible after purchasing for the best flavour and nutrition. 

This recipe serves 4.

Ingredients

  • 1 lb. fresh fava beans
  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled and bruised
  • Salt
  • Scallions
  • Fresh flat leaf parsley, finely chopped
  • Fresh basil, finely chopped
  • 1 fresh red chilli or crushed red pepper flakes
  • Fresh lemon juice, optional

Removing fava beans from their pods is not dissimilar to shelling green beans or peas. Grab the tip of the pod, pull a strip down the seam of the pod. (In a perfect world, the seam will peel away from the pod in one long strand). If it breaks, use your fingers to split the pod in half along the seam and remove the beans. 

The easiest way to remove the skins from the beans is to blanche the beans first. Bring the beans to a boil in enough water to cover, with one clove of garlic and a generous pinch of salt. Simmer for 5 minutes or until the beans are soft. Strain the beans, reserving the liquid for the polenta. Pinch the beans between your fingers – the skin should slip right off. 

Pulse the beans with one clove of garlic and a little salt to taste in a food processor or blender. If the mixture is too thick to blend, add more water as necessary. taste the mixture and add juice from 1/4 lemon, if desired. 

For the Polenta

Ingredients

1-cup medium or coarse cornmeal
4 cups water (use the residual blanching water and top up with water until you have to 4 cups)
1 1/4 tsp. Celtic or pink Himalayan salt

½ tbsp. Dijon mustard
1/2 tsp chili paste, or fresh chilies, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, finely minced

Bring 3 cups of water to a boil in a medium large non-stick fry pan. While water is boiling, combine cornmeal, salt and remaining cup of water in a small bowl and stir to make thick slurry. Pour the cornmeal slurry into the boiling water and stir to distribute the water and cornmeal evenly. Reduce heat to low. (Cover the pan with a lid or spatter guard as the mixture will bubble up and make a mess of your stovetop). Simmer for about 10 minutes or until cooked through and thick. You can raise the lid and give the mixture a stir every now and again, but for the most part it is ok to leave it unattended. If it appears to stick to the bottom of the pan, don’t worry, it will all come together at the end.

The texture of polenta is a personal preference. If the polenta seems too thick, add more water or residual blanching water until you achieve the consistency you want. If it seems too thin, let it rest for a few minutes as it will firm up on standing. 

When you have achieved the texture you want, remove the pan from the heat and add the Dijon mustard, finely minced garlic and chili paste. Stir the mixture until the ingredients are well blended.

Immediately divide the polenta between 4 plates or shallow, wide serving bowls and place a mound  of bean puree in the centre. One by one, sprinkle the finely chopped parsley, basil, thinly sliced scallions and chillies on top. 

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