When the question of dinner came up, the garden answered loud and clear. This summery version of Vignarola makes use of everything starting to come in, and then some — the first of the fava beans, a mix of baby summer squash with their blossoms still attached, and the last of the peas. We served it all over pasta, with slivers of basil for a hint of minty anise, and a few slices of bacon adding a salty backbeat to the mix.
Favas and broad beans are one and the same, with fava stemming from its latin name Vicia faba. Above: Cascine pods standing tall on the plant — some say the favas are mature when the pods begin to droop downwards.
To peel, or not to peel? The favas were picked a little later than we would have liked, maturing enough that their leathery skins needed to be removed after blanching. I had the good fortune to meet the wonderfully knowledgable Nancy Harmon Jenkins at this year’s Kneading Conference, where she gave me her thoughts on the subject of peeling. We’ll catch them younger next time around to keep them unpeeled, or, as Nancy suggests: “If the pods are no fatter than your little finger, you might copy Lebanese cooks and handle them as one would green beans, topping and tailing, then chopping and cooking the pods along with shelled favas, garlic, olive oil and lemon.”
We grew three varieties of fava beans, the same as last year and all imported by Seeds From Italy. Above, from top to bottom: Aguadulce, Cascine, and Super Aguadulce. In a departure from previous year, we find ourselves preferring the flavor of the Cascine and Aguadulce over the Super Aguadulce. To be fair, the Super Aguadulce should have been harvested at an earlier and less starchy point.
In cooking seasonally, use the following recipe as more of an approximate guide than a set of restrictive instructions. The summer squash — a combination of Costada Romanesco zucchini and yellow Zephyr — are sliced into the thinnest of coins, and cooked with the bacon and garlic until they become tender and buttery. The favas add their earthy nuttiness, while the peas keep things bright; if neither are to be had, green beans would do just as well. To hold onto their delicate flavor, shreds of basil and squash blossoms are stirred in only at the very end. Finish with a drizzle of good olive oil, and serve with your choice of grated parmesan or pecorino, though we found ourselves preferring the slight sharpness of pecorino over the sweetness of parmesan in this dish.
Penne with Fava Beans, Summer Squash and Blossoms
1 pound penne, or other short pasta
⅓ cup olive oil
3 slices bacon, diced
1 to 2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
4 to 6 small summer squash, thinly sliced, with their blossoms torn into shreds
2 cups fava beans, blanched and peeled
½ shelled peas
Shredded basil, to taste
Grated pecorino or parmesan
– Heat the olive oil in a large skillet, add the diced bacon and cook until the bacon is barely beginning to brown. Stir in the garlic, and cook briefly before adding the summer squash. Continue to cook until the summer squash are soft and tender, then add the fava beans to finish cooking them. Remove pan from heat.
– For the pasta, boil in salted water until al dente. Add the peas to the pasta water to cook briefly, then drain the pasta with the peas. Toss the pasta with the rest of the cooked vegetables. If necessary, add some reserved cooking water to loosen the sauce. Season to taste with salt and freshly ground black pepper, and stir in the shredded basil and squash blossoms. Finish with a drizzle of good olive oil, and serve with grated pecorino or parmesan cheese.
Local ingredients: Bacon from Meadow’s Mirth; fava beans, peas, summer squash and blossoms, basil, and garlic from the garden.