By Jillian Fraioli
There are few foods that evoke the turning of winter to spring to me like the long, furry packets of English peas and fava beans — sitting there in the open-air market, waiting in the warming air to be gathered into the next cook’s hands.
I tend to anthropomorphize my food. So when I’m wandering around in a daze, gazing at all the abundance that has made its way through winter, I see these pods and stalks in my mind’s eye telling me their stories about the verdant and delicious treasures buried inside.Like us, these beautiful vegetables of spring have gone dormant, turned inward, survived frost and cold and wind and snow and rain, only to show back up at our markets — almost with a cheeky petulance — faces turned toward the sun, ready for a new season.While late-winter cooking is about banging on with comfort foods, incorporating more green veggies as they become available, and slowly moving away from oven meals to the grill, May is about abandoning as many cooking processes I can, and slowly, reverently indulging myself by working with what nature has begun to provide, like a meditation on springtime.
These weekend kitchen activities these days are long — cleaning baby artichokes, shelling peas or fava beans, peeling asparagus, stewing rhubarb, baking bread — they will bite a good few hours out of your day. But what could be better than time with your own thoughts, or a good friend working alongside you, waxing poetic about projects, life, cycles, seasons, and love?
This is what I’m doing today: slowing down to recall those first times I touched a fava bean pod. Felt the silky inside. Popped the oblong and odd kidney shaped orbs out of their nests. Learned to gently mash them in a mortar with delicate spring mint, garlic, anchovy, olive oil. The rhythm of shelling fava is smooth, and mimics the rhythm of the season change. Neither quick, nor stagnant. Reminding me that this is how it goes: change and growth, always coming out of needed hibernation and reflection.
And later, our friends will gather together to enjoy an alfresco feast with us. A loaf of fresh sourdough is coming out of the oven. My kitchen sous chef is making lemon spiked ricotta and bagna cauda, the perfect dips to showcase our fresh market finds. We will wait a bit, pour a sharp Pinot Grigio while thinly slicing up peppers, fennel, radish, asparagus, green onion. Then we’ll come together under the stars, in ceremony, and thank them in awe over how very, very incredible it is we have found ourselves amidst another spring, fresh, whole, and vibrant.
Fava Bean “Pesto”
- *1# Fava beans, double-shelled or English peas, shelled
- 1/8 cup gently torn spring mint leaves (about 20; more can be added to taste)
- 1 medium garlic clove
- 2 TBSP Parmesan
- 2 TBSP Pecorino Romano
- 6 TBSP olive oil
- 1/2 an anchovy (optional)
- 1 TSP lemon zest
Fava beans have to be “double-shelled.” To do this, first open the hearty pods at one end, using the string to “unzip” the side with the curve. Then, running your finger down the furry inside, pop out each fava. You’ll see there’s a little jacket on each one. After peeling, get 4 quarts of salty-like-the-ocean water (about 2 TBSP salt: 4q water) going on the stove, and blanch the fava beans for 1 minute. Immediately plunge them into an ice bath, making them easier to peel and keeping them green. Using the tip of a paring knife, break through the shell at the “dip” or “dimple” of the fava bean, peeling back the top, and using your holding thumb and finger to pop them out of the rest of their jacket. Repeat with each bean.
For peas: after shelling, follow the blanching process above.
Mortar and Pestle:
Crush the garlic and half of the anchovy in the mortar until it’s a creamy paste. Add in the favas in batches, with a little coarse salt (a pinch or two will help with the emulsion), and gently mash until it becomes a chunky mess, incorporating the “cream” of the garlic and anchovy. You’re looking for more like a smashed avocado consistency, not a smooth paste. Add in the torn mint leaves and mash a few more times to work it in. Remove the mixture to the serving bowl, or keep in the pestle to serve. Fold in the cheese and the lemon zest using a spatula or spoon, and then gradually add the olive oil, until the fava mix loosens up to a spreadable paste.
Add fava beans, mashed garlic, half the anchovy, and cheese in the base of the food processor and pulse — like two to three seconds each — about six or seven times. You do not want make the puree smooth, you are going for a “chunky” pesto here! Add the torn mint leaves and pulse one or two more times. Remove from the processor to serving bowl.
To finish, slowly drizzle in the olive oil while stirring with a spoon, until the fava mix loosens up to a spreadable paste. You may only use 4 TBSP of the olive oil; it will depend on the size of your fava or peas. Adjust for taste: salt, pepper, and mint, add as needed. Sometimes a slash of lemon will also be welcome, to perk up the lemon zest.
Serve with fresh crusty bread, or big wide crackers where people can spread generously, and greens, like a big pile of pea shoots or fresh spring arugula.
Bagna Cauda, aka “Hot Bath”
Based on the recipe by Marcella Hazan
The mixture of this olive oil, anchovy, and garlic is the perfect “dip” for a big spread of veg: asparagus, green onions, radish, radicchio, fennel, early peppers, raw Jerusalem artichokes, steamed baby new potatoes — all the bounty you’ll find at your spring farmer’s market.
- 3/4 cup olive oil
- 6 garlic cloves, very finely chopped, or mashed with your mortar and pestle
- 12 anchovy fillets (I prefer the Spanish variety; be still my Italian heart — they’re white, mellow, and I feel more suited to a crowd. They are called “boquerones”)
- 4 TBSP (1/2 stick) unsalted butter (do not substitute salted butter)
- About 8 cups trimmed, cut-up vegetables (as above)
In a small saucepan over medium, combine the olive oil and butter. Once the butter begins to foam, add the garlic and anchovies, and turn the heat down to low. Continue to cook, mashing the anchovies with the back of a wooden spoon, until broken up and beginning to emulsify (come together), about five minutes. Remove from the heat, serve immediately. You may keep it warm over in a fondue pot, but we don’t mind this at room temperature. If it gets too cold, and begins to solidify, place the bowl in some hot water and whisk for a few minutes.
Jillian cooks daily and bakes bread every weekend, foraging from the fresh markets and forests of the Pacific Northwest. Jillian fell in love with cooking early in life, before she could even reach the stove, alongside her Grandma Fraioli. Jillian has been on staff at restaurants such as Emeril’s Fish House in Las Vegas, NV (as Pastry Chef), and Serafina and Tango in Seattle, WA. While she may have ended her career in restaurants many lives ago, her undying passion for feeding her family and friends will be her continued legacy. You may find her, along with her cats, bread loaves, and copious amounts of knitting, if that’s your jam, on Instagram @yarnologie