This past week I discovered a new vendor at the farmers market, a young man with a big basket of fava beans. I bought what I thought was a huge bag, forgetting that fava beans are one of those joys of fresh vegetables that is associated with a lot of effort and a very small return except in flavor. I shelled what looked like a quarter bushel of favas, blanched the beans, took off the rubbery outer layer, and wound up with a cup of bright green beans. It’s no wonder that many cooks consider them either the equivalent of gold or not worth the effort.
Fava beans are one of the few (only?) Old World beans, and they have been grown for centuries in the Mediterranean basin. It seems a quirk of geography and genetics, then, that some individuals of Mediterranean extraction, most commonly, may harbor a deficiency of an enzyme, glucose-6-phosphate-dehydrogenase (G6PD for short) that makes them susceptible to substances found in fava beans. If an individual is sensitive, he – more common than she – may experience a sudden illness with rapid breakdown of red blood cells, and even kidney failure and death unless it is recognized and rapidly treated. The illness is well-known and has been called favism to show the link with fava beans. Fortunately, the vast majority of individuals can eat fava beans without worry.
I had thought that favas and prosciutto would go well with lightly sautéed bucatini pasta, but alas there was none to be found in any of the local stores. At that point I turned to my copy of Encyclopedia of Pasta, written in Italian by Oretta Zanini de Vita and translated by Maureen B. Fant (University of California Press, Berkeley, 2009). If you haven’t seen that little volume, you should check it out. It describes nearly every pasta shape you can imagine, tells how each pasta is made, and suggests how to use each one.
With all of the sensory overload of that beautiful book, I remained undecided until I remembered some wonderful pasta that I had purchased at our village market. I found it in the pantry, four-foot lengths of pappardelle folded in half and dried for “easy storage”. The manufacturer, Maestri Pastai, makes all kinds of unusual types and sizes of pasta. That’s great if you have a hard time finding exactly what you are looking for and don’t have the time or skill to make it yourself. Check out their website.
The rest of the ingredients for this dish were easy to find. I had a spare package of prosciutto in the refrigerator, and that seemed like the perfect foil for the favas. The scallions came from the market, the mint from the back yard, and there is always a chunk of Parmesan in the refrigerator.
Pappardelle with Fava Beans and Prosciutto
- 2 pounds fresh fava beans
- 5 ounces dried pappardelle
- 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 4 scallions cleaned and cut into ½ inch slices, white and green ends
- 3 ounces prosciutto, thinly sliced and cut or torn into bite-sized pieces
- 25 fresh mint leaves cut finely into chiffonade
- 2 ounces fresh Parmesan, grated
- salt and pepper
- Shell the fava beans by breaking off one end and opening the pod along the seam. Collect the beans in a small bowl
- Plunge the shelled beans into two quarts of vigorously boiling salted water. Return to the boil for one minute – no more – and then drain the beans and transfer to a large bowl filled with ice water.
- When the beans have cooled, remove the outer skin with your fingers, being careful not to mash the beans. Collect the bright green inner beans in a small bowl and set aside.
- In a large pot, bring three quarts of salted water to the boil. Add the dried pappardelle and stir occasionally until the pasta is cooked, al dente, about 12 minutes, longer if you live at high altitude. Drain the pasta but do not rinse.Return to the pot along with the butter and olive oil. over medium heat. Add the scallions. Stir occasionally until the butter is completely melted and slightly colored. The pasta should have absorbed the oil and butter and sautéed lightly, but not browned.
- Stir in the fava beans and prosciutto until they are warmed through – 2 or 3 minutes. Stir in the mint leaves. Adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper. Top with grated Parmesan, and serve immediately.