Fava bean puree with mint, lemon & parmesan
Early-season fresh fava beans have a sweet/starchy mouth feel. Try one raw before you purchase them: Open the pod like you would a pea, remove a bean, slip it from its shell and taste it. By doing so, you'll know how fresh it is, and whether the beans are converting their sugars (most prominent early in the growing season) to starch (characteristic of fava beans nearing the end of their growing season). In years when spring has been unusually hot, they can take on a starchy quality as early as mid-May.
If you can find young sweet fava beans, try whirring them into a puree with lemon, Parmesan cheese and mint. (You'll need a food processor.) Lemon offers an acidic flavor note, while the cheese adds salt and fat for a full mouth feel. Mint ties it all together, equally complementing each of the other ingredients. If another herb is preferred, try parsley, basil or tarragon. The final consistency should be creamy and soft, easy to spread and a bright green color.
Spread the puree on crackers or toasted bread or use it as a dip for other vegetables such slices of cucumber, celery sticks or cherry tomatoes. I like to finish it with freshly milled black peppercorns.
Makes approximately 2 cups
2 tablespoons salt plus more to taste
3 pounds fresh fava beans, shelled (about 3 cups)
1 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 lemons, one zested, both juiced
12 to 15 fresh mint leaves
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
Bring about 6 cups of water to boil and add 2 tablespoons salt. Blanch the fava beans, allowing them to boil for 2 minutes before straining or removing them with a slotted spoon, into a bowl of ice water or running them under cold water. Peel and discard the outer shell of the beans.
Place the peel fava beans in a food processor fitted with the steel blade. Add the cheese, olive oil, lemon juice and finely chopped zest, mint leaves and cayenne. Pulse the machine to combine and coarsely chop the ingredients, then continue to puree for a minute or so. Stop to check the consistency of the puree as it gets smoother. Add a splash of cold water if it's too thick or starchy-tasting. Slowly add more if needed, until the desired creamy consistency is achieved.
Adjust the salt and lemon if needed. The cayenne pepper should not add heat to the puree, but rather accent the other ingredients. When the flavors are to your liking, remove the puree from the food processor into a bowl, cover and chill. The puree will keep for up to 2 days in the refrigerator.