Having been gone the last two Saturdays, I was dying to get to the Farmer's market to see what was new and what I had been missing. Yes, even as Loving Boyfriend and I headed off to Bend, OR to become engaged two weekends ago (unbeknownst to me at the time), I was staring wistfully out the window and wondering what might be coming out at the market while I was driving far away and in the opposite direction. You can imagine me...hands spread out with my palms against the window, eyes opened wide and longing to know what was happening as we sped by the market, just beginning to set up their tents. It was almost heart-breaking.
So this weekend, there was no way I was not going to go. I convinced my friend K., who had never been, to go with me and subjected her to my shameless produce weakness. First, a stop by the ATM to get out a little extra money. Usually, all I allow myself is a $20 bill to get me through the farmer's market and make my purchases - this is the best way I can force myself to budget given all the gorgeous produce calling my name out from the stands and knowing that being at a farmer's market on a budget is a bit like letting my inner child out in a candy store and telling her she can only pick one thing. Not having gone for 2 weeks, I felt I could justify an extra $20 and just let myself go crazy.
We floated through the aisles, checking out the produce, looking at prices and of course, stopping by Freeman's booth to see what delicously rare goodies he had this week. Among the produce that had arrived while I was gone were the first early summer, vine- and sun-ripened tomatoes. Also newly arrived to my eyes were summer pears (I had no idea there was such a thing, but of course, I bought some), sour pie cherries, English shelling peas, a few early figs and gloriously bright purple gooseberries. Freeman also had several unique berries, including more red currants, black currants (which make a truly exquisite jam) and josta berries (a cross between a black currant and a gooseberry), which were also quite tasty (Freeman always offers his patrons a taste of his unique hand-gathered fruits).
I made my rounds, picking up anything that piqued my fancy or looked incredibly fresh and bursting with that sun-ripened smell. I piled my bags up with mint, tomatoes, cherries, new potatoes, purple gooseberries (which were promptly turned into fabulously light-tasting custard tarts on Sunday), black currants, Italian runner beans, and more. The fava beans, however, were also looking especially shiny, heavy in their pods, and priced quite reasonably, so I also reserved a special place in my bag, and my budget, for them.
Some people prefer to stay away from fava beans, touting the difficulty in actually getting the beans out of their pods, and then again out of the tough shell that surrounds the individual beans, as their excuse. I actually find it rather theraputic... Sitting down with an empty paper bag in front of me, a large bowl for the beans in their pods and another smaller one for the beans themselves, I could spend an hour immersing myself completely in the gentle labor involved. It reminds me of when I was younger and everyone would sit together as a family and "snap" freshly picked green beans from the garden for dinner - popping off the ends and then snapping them in the middle.
For fava beans, I crack the end of the pod where it was once connected to the complete plant, pulling the string that runs like a vein along the side of the pod. This leaves an opening where I can then run my finger along the inside of each pod and scoop the beans out into my bowl. Before I begin, I start a pot of water to boil and prepare an ice bath, so that once all of my beans are freed from their pods, I can toss the contents of the entire bowl in the bubbling water to blanch them, drain them after only a minute, and put them in the ice bath. This blanching technique makes easy work of the inner bean's shells. Some people pinch alongside where the bean was connected in the pod; I find it much easier to lightly grab the opposite side and rip a small whole in the bean shell before pinching it to release the bean. The favas are then ready for any dressing up you'd like to do.
My favorite way to eat fava beans is how Ilva, at Lucullian Delights, makes hers...raw, with a bit of olive oil, lemon juice, freshly cracked black pepper, and large chunks of tangy pecorino cheese. But I had seen another recipe in Fresh from the Farmer's Market, a cookbook by Janet Fletcher that had caught my eye. For those of you in Eugene, she's demonstrating a cooking class at Cooks, Pots and Tabletops on July 19th (that would be on Wednesday!). Remember when you're choosing fava beans to get enough so that you'll have enough shelled beans for any recipe you want to try. This recipe took about 1-1 1/2 pounds of the beans from the market, to end up with about 1 cup of shelled beans to work with, and although it's similar to hers, I've changed things up a bit.
Warmed curly endive and fava bean salad, adapted from:
Fresh From the Farmer's Market
1 - 1 1/2 lb. fresh fava beans, to end up with approximately 1 cup of shelled beans
1 tbsp. olive oil
3-4 thin slices of pancetta, sliced thinly into 1/4" pieces
1 large shallot, minced
4-5 large leaves of curly endive, with stalks
salt and freshly cracked black pepper, to taste
Prepare the fava beans as described above until you have removed the beans from both the pod and their inner shell. Set aside. Heat olive oil in a saute pan until hot, then add the pancetta and fry until it begins to render its fat and becomes crisp (about 5 minutes). Add the minced shallot and cook one minute or until tender. Cut the very tops of the leaves off the curly endive - they tend to be tough, then cut the entire stalk and remainder of leaves into small pieces. Place endive into a large bowl, then mix with the pancetta and salad and any oil that remains in the pan. Add the prepared fava beans, and toss these with the salad. Season with salt and pepper to taste.