People often ask me if I miss working in restaurants, and the answer is a highly qualified “sometimes”.
I miss some, but not all, of the people. The friendly ones, the ones who smelled good and didn’t come in hungover every day: I miss them. I miss having a convection oven but I don’t miss burning the back of my hand every other day. I miss the comfort of kitchen clothes but not my swollen ankles. I miss listening to a certain Elvis Presley song with Heather as we coated countless almonds in chocolate, trying to see if we could finish them before the music stopped. I miss the shift drink.
Much kitchen work is mindless and repetitive, but that wasn’t always a bad thing. There were days when I wished I had more apples to peel, when I would have happily hulled another flat of strawberries, when I actually preferred making the bread sticks, when I wanted to chop all that orange peel for marmalade. It can be quite pleasant, really, to get into the groove of a task, and to let your brain relax and think. Or not think at all.
The other morning I stopped by Barbuto to say hello. On my way out, I passed Luis, the lead lunch cook, whom I’ve known since 2002, when we both worked for Jonathan Waxman at Washington Park. Luis still works for JW, and on this particular day he was shelling a pile of fava beans that he had just blanched. I wanted to stop and help him.
There were errands to run and blog posts to write but all I wanted to do at that moment was to stand there and shell hundreds of fava beans.
The first step, not pictured, is to open the large pods and remove the raw beans, as you would to shell peas. The beans are then cooked briefly in boiling water to loosen their tough, waxy outer skins. This outer skin is peeled, and what you are left with is a teeny tiny pile of delicate, sweet fava beans. It’s a somewhat tedious process, though not an entirely mindless one. Some thoughtful attention is needed and a little delicacy is required to avoid crushing and splitting the tender beans. Having a decent thumbnail helps.
Fava beans are a real springtime treat, good in salads with delicate spring greens; stirred into risotto or with pasta; warmed in a little olive oil or butter; made into a topping for bruschetta with plenty of black pepper and pecorino; or in any recipe calling for peas or lima beans.
Are they worth the effort? I think so.
How to Prepare Fava Beans
1. Choose favas with firm, bright pods. You should be able to feel the beans on the inside. If the pods are tired looking, chances are the beans will be bland and starchy.
2. Bring a large pot of salted water to a roiling boil. In the mean time, break off the end of each pod, open it up, and gently remove the beans. Discard or compost the pods.
3. When the water is boiling, add the beans and cook for about 60-90 seconds. Drain the beans and either rinse them under cold water or plunge them into ice water to stop the cooking. Drain them well.
4. Carefully remove the pale, outer shell of each bean to reveal the bright green interior. This is the part you will use.
A few serving suggestions: Fava beans are good in salads with delicate spring greens; stirred into risotto or with pasta; warmed in a little olive oil or butter; made into a topping for bruschetta with plenty of black pepper and pecorino; or in any recipe calling for peas or lima beans.