September 29, 2010


my fava plants

Every year, I choose an experimental vegetable or two for the garden. This year, I chose fava beans, cantaloupe and watermelon. In our climate, the latter two are definitely in
the 'unlikely to work' category but after last year's crazy hot summer, I thought I'd risk it. Naturally, this summer was colder and wetter than in many years, so we can move the melons to the 'complete bust' category. The cantaloupes look like tiny, fuzzy
testicles a
nd the watermelons are ... pretty leaves. But, happily, the favas were a great success!

big bowl of beans

I'd always thought of favas as long-season vegetables (true) that needed a lot of heat and dry weather (false). I saw on the seed packet that they do well in coastal climates so I gave them a try. They grew less like beans than like small trees. I could see where the Jack and the Beanstalk story might have come from! The flowers were beautiful - black and white and fragrant - out of which the bean pods slowly emerged. I usually think of fava beans as a spring food, served as a salad with pecorino cheese, mint or parsley and olive oil and salt to dress them. But, here I am in late September harvesting huge pods. I got to work shelling them. The pods are pithy and soft i
nside - the beans grow in a downy bed. The size of beans can vary in each pod.

cozy beans

Favas are fairly labor-intensive to prepare. The process is: shell the beans from the pods, blanch in boiling water for 3-5 minutes, when cool enough to handle, slip the
outer skins from the beans and then proceed with recipe. It's a lot, but I enjoy the process - I just kind of use it as a meditative time. It'd definitely be more fun to do with friends around the table, though. I ended up with about five cups of fava beans from 18 plants.

Many cultures use fava beans in their cuisine. Referred to as broad beans in the UK and other countries, the beans are used in a variety of dishes. Mexico and South American countries eat them fried, as a snack. A typical dish of Puglia is fava bean puree with chicory; the salad with pecorino cheese I mentioned is popular in northern Italy, Umbria has a dish called scafata using favas and chard - Italy has many recipes using fava beans and there are interesting folklore stories surrounding this legume. In Greece, they are eaten in salads and boiled in stews. The middle eastern countries use the dried beans in falafel and also eat it in various purees. In the spirit of the ending of summer, I made this for dinner tonight, in an Italian fashion. Now I want more favas to cook with!
~ ~ ~ ~ ~

(Insalata fave alla fine dell'estate)

1/4 lb. guanciale, chopped fine (or use pancetta)
4 T. olive oil
3 small zucchini, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
4 green onions, white part only, sliced
1 large clove garlic, minced
2 T. fresh lemon juice
4 c. shelled, blanched and peeled fava beans
2 T. finely chopped Italian parsley
Freshly ground pepper
pinch salt
1/4 t. red chile flakes

Heat olive oil in large skillet and add guanciale. Cook over medium high heat until crispy. Add zucchini, green onions and garlic and saute, stirring, for about 5 minutes. Squeeze lemon juice onto vegetables, add fava beans and continue sauteeing for 2 minutes more. Remove from heat, stir in parsley, pepper and salt to taste. Pour into serving bowl and sprinkle with red chile flakes. Serve warm or cold.

Serves 6 as a side dish

September 25, 2010


Merano, Italy in spring

I'm traveling back to Italy soon, in the beautiful autumn (autunno, in Italian). My good friend in Germany has invited me again to accompany her and her friends to Merano for their twice annual gathering at a small, gemütlich (cozy, in German) hotel in the hills above Merano, with food and a wine list to die for. It also has its own health spa, pool and sauna which are gorgeous. We'll spend 3 nights there, eating, laughing, hiking and shopping in Merano. Last time, I bought the most supple, yummy leather purse for a very reasonable price. Maybe shoes this time? Then, we'll drive back to Munich for a few days before I take the train to Switzerland to visit another friend there.

The autumn is my favorite time to visit, for the beauty of the colors and the heady smell of humus and leaves, the quality of the flushed sunlight, seeing the grapes harvested as we drive through the countryside, the cows enjoying the end of the year before they're put into the barns for winter (cow bells in the early morning is a wonderful sound while still nestled under a big feather bed), the evening fog settling onto the fields like a blanket for the night and not least because of the mushroom foraging opportunities and mushroom and chestnut dishes on every menu. Pure delight for me. My face starts to hurt from all the smiling!

These places are becoming a second home to me and it feels good. It especially pleases me when someone asks me for directions and I can actually help them! Pretty cool.

Now, I'm off to my own woods to hunt for mushrooms - found some chanterelles yesterday. Have to sharpen my eyes for future foraging!

September 12, 2010


Lobster Mushrooms
Hypomyces lactifluorum

Doesn't 'amuse bouche' make you smile just saying it? Today's dish doesn't qualify as a small bite, but it definitely made my mouth happy.
I visited the local farmer's market this afternoon, hoping to find both New Mexico green chiles and some autumn mushrooms. Happily, I came away with both. The lobster mushrooms caught my eye because of their bright orange hue. I can't ever pass them by. I've only ever found one in the wild. Next to them was a big box of glowing, golden Chanterelles, but I went for the lobster boys, because they're harder to come by. The lobster mushroom - also known as the mushroom-eating mushroom,
is actually white, but the orange-red color comes from a symbiotic fungus. The lobster mushroom is actually a mold that parasitizes a Russula or Lactarius mushroom and "eats" it, turning its ordinarily unpalatable hosts into excellent edibles. However, if the host is poisonous, so will the lobster mushroom be. Feeling risky??? You can be confident of those sold commercially, from licensed foragers, but if you're collecting on your own, be sure to confirm the host mushroom before eating.

From a culinary standpoint, they're meaty and hearty, give a gorgeous color to sauces and soups, have a hint of sea flavor which can sometimes have a slightly spicy bite and a delicately sweet depth of flavor that's very satisfying. They have a nice kind of crunch even after long cooking in soups or simmered sauces. No flobby mushroom, this one!

Well, back to my gorgeous specimens. What will it be ~ a wavy risotto, peppered just enough to counter the sweetness of the mushrooms? Or an unctuous sauce of lobster mushrooms, shallots, garlic and cream over tagliatelle? Wild mushroom soup with a hint of Port? Decisions, decisions. It won by only a spore, but I went with pasta. Sometimes, life is just so good.


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