Monday, June 1, 2009

Fava Beans

Fava beans, also known as broad beans, are my favorite springtime treat. They are delicious and also a total pain to prepare – painful because the beans must be shelled twice, first to extrude the beans from their pods and then again, after blanching, to remove their tough outer skin.

Truth be told, I actually love peeling fava beans. There is something therapeutic about it – you just zone out and do your thing. And if you can convince your friends to help, it's a great way to spend an afternoon.

If anyone out there has never brought home a bag of favas I've illustrated the process above, along with some pictures of a puree I made with homemade ricotta, mint, and olive oil.

Homemade ricotta? Why yes. It turns out that making ricotta at home is actually very easy and yields superior results to the store bought variety. It might also be cheaper, but I'll have to do some more research to say so definitively.

Ricotta, literally "recooked", in Italian is traditionally made by recooking the whey leftover after curdling milk in cheesemaking. I've made ricotta like this before, while making fresh mozzarella and it's absolutely incredible, but the method has a disappointing yield, maybe 4-5 tablespoons of ricotta from a quart a milk. For the puree above, I used a a simpler, higher yield alternative.

All you need is:
  • Half a teaspoon of cirtric acid disolved in 1/4 cup of water (I found mine at the Damascus bakery in Park Slope, adjacent to Sahadi's)
  • Some salt
  • A quart of the best, least pasturized, unhomogenized milk you can find (I like Ronnybrook)
To make the ricotta:
  • Slowly heat the milk and a pinch of salt in a saucepan, stirring constantly to avoid scorching.
  • Once the milk reaches 190 degrees F, stir in the citric acid
  • Remove the milk from the heat, let it sit for about half an hour, during which time the milk will separate into curds and whey. If the milk doesn't separate, add a little more citric acid and wait it out.
  • Finally, Line a colander with cheesecloth, then strain the contents of the pan, tie the four corners of the cheese cloth together and hang for another half hour
It's that easy. If you're feeling ambitious, you can also get an even higher yield and make some legitimate ricotta by recooking your leftover whey. Simply repeat the recipe, but omit the citric acid.

To make my Ricotta-Fava Bean puree:
  • Combine 1 cup of ricotta, 3 cups fava beans (about 3lbs before shelling), and about 20 mint leaves in a food processor.
  • Turn the machine on and slowly drizzle about 1/2 cup of extra virgin olive oil, to emulsify the the puree (I used Olave).
  • Season with salt, lemon.
  • If necessary, thin the puree with warm water, keeping in mind that the puree will thicken significantly as it cools in the fridge.
If you put too much cheese or olive oil in the mixture, it may break and turn in to an oily mess that resembles green spackle. If this happens to you, as it has happened to me – fear not! It'll be a pain but you can save your puree with another handful or two of beans. Just empty the food processor, puree the new beans and slowly add broken puree back in – just like you would fix broken mayonnaise.

The puree is great on toast. In the picture above, put some extra fava beans and mint on top and grated some Parmesan. Stay tuned for a lamb sandwich later this week.

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