Daily Dish

The inside scoop on food in Los Angeles

Category: Cooking through the seasons

Times restaurant critic S. Irene Virbila on the first fava beans of the season

FAVA BEANS (1 of 1) I just picked my first fava bean harvest: four pounds. Beautiful, aren’t they? But for those who aren't growing any, fava beans are just coming in at the farmers market, where I saw them for anywhere from $2 to $4 a pound.

I ate a few handfuls raw, and then with the rest I made a fava bean salad with mountain ham and mint, a recipe I’d been wanting to try from Chez Panisse chef David Tanis’ first book, “A Platter of Figs and Other Recipes” (Artisan Books, 2008, $35).

Basically, you remove the beans from FAVA SALAD (1 of 1) the pods, blanch blanch the beans, then take off the tough outer skin. Slice fennel on a mandoline and toss with the fava beans, some thinly slivered scallions and sea salt. Drizzle olive oil over and the juice of half a lemon. Garnish with mint leaves and tear fine slices of jamon serrano or prosciutto into strips and scatter over the salad. (The recipe has more detail, but you get the idea.)

I have little tabs stuck all over this book. Most cookbooks yield a handful of recipes you’d like to try. This one, and the sequel “Heart of the Artichoke,” has many more. 

With the fava bean salad, I served a Mas de Daumas Gassac rosé from the Languedoc, which Silverlake Wine had just put on the shelf. 


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 — S. Irene Virbila

Photo: S. Irene Virbila/Los Angeles Times

Canning It: Working under pressure

Pressure Canner by Rachael Narins
When most people think of canning, they think of boiling water canning; taking food that has been placed in jars and boiling it for a recommended amount of time to make it last.

When you make fruit jam or pickles that way, you have something to eat and perhaps some handsome gifts to give away. But there are limitations to what can be boiling water processed and you can’t really feed your family on jelly and pickles. This is where pressure canning comes in.

Pressure canners (which are different than pressure cookers) are huge industrial-looking pots that have clamps and gauges, weights and valves and 12-page instruction manuals that are downright intimidating.  But don’t let that stop you. It’s simpler thank you think. All you have to do is follow the directions.

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Canning it: Getting into a pickle

Image of Pickled Cucumber LAT
There's more to pickles than just garlicky brined cucumbers. A pickle is actually any food that is preserved using salt and acid. That includes everything from kimchi to blueberries agri-doux.

There are two very basic ways to introduce salt and acid to create pickled foods. Quick -- also known as refrigerator or fresh-pack -- pickles rely on vinegar. Fermented pickles are made with a controlled process that allows lactic acid to break down the food and change the taste and texture. Fermented pickles take longer -- in some instances, up to a year -- and require a bit more attention to detail. A quick pickle can be ready to eat immediately.

Pickling is one of the oldest food preservation methods and is simple enough to do. The primary concerns are making something delicious and making it safely. The goal is to keep the food from spoiling and the acid at a high enough level so as not to introduce Clostridium botulinum toxins. Botulism, as it is also known, can be lethal when consumed.  Home-canned foods that are contaminated with botulism do not show any visual signs and have no smell, so you really want to use an approved recipe for peace of mind. Do that and you can enjoy making and eating pickles year-round.

This week, try your hand at making green almonds, asparagus, artichoke hearts or green beans. They are all in season and perfect for pickling!

If you decide to try your hand at pickling, the Master Food Preservers have a few tips:

  • Choose sea salt, canning salt or pickling salt. Table salt will make your brine cloudy due to anti-caking additives.
  • Use fresh, whole spices for seasoning. Ground spices will make your brine cloudy, and spices that are more than a year old don’t have much flavor.
  • Vinegar used for pickles should be 5% acid. The acid level is usually printed on the front of the bottle. White and cider vinegar are ideal.
  • It isn’t advisable to make pickles from homemade vinegar since the pH can’t be easily tested.
  • Do not pickle waxed produce. The wax inhibits the pickling solution.
  • For firmer fermented cucumber pickles, try adding a few clean grape leaves to your brine.
  • If you use garlic and it turns blue, just discard it. The pickle is fine. It’s just a chemical reaction.
  • Do not make pickles in copper, brass or iron pans. The metal can leach into your food and will cause chemical reactions and off-tasting results.
  • And lastly, use quality produce, an approved recipe and don’t change the ratios of vinegar to water.

Los Angeles Master Food Preservers are trained and certified by the University of California Cooperative Extension in food preservation. They are volunteers who provide information and technical assistance to home preservationists in L.A. County.The Master Food Preservers can be found on Facebook.

--Rachel Narins

Photo credit: Rachel Narins

Canning it: How to make the sweetness last

MFP Kevin West-1
For capturing fruit flavors at the height of the season, there is nothing more satisfying for the home preservationist than making sweet preserves.

In the most basic terms, a sweet preserve is jam, jelly and marmalade or fruit butter. Whatever the end result, the process is as straightforward as combining fruit and sweetener (most likely sugar), heating to reduce the water content and thus enhancing texture and body.

It’s easy to can sweet preserves at home using the boiling water method, so you can enjoy the flavors of spring year-round. The secret (we’ve said it before, we’ll say it again) is to use top-quality products and follow a good recipe that takes the time to explain each step. The can in question should be a glass jar with a two-piece lid. Ball brand jars are available at most major grocery stores.

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L.A. Times Food editor Russ Parsons: Fava beans are hitting their peak in April


Is there any taste that promises spring as much as that bright flash of green you get from a fava bean?

Check out this primer on cooking through the seasons, which includes tips from L.A. Times Food Editor Russ Parsons about choosing the freshest produce available and how to store it once you get it home. We also have plenty of recipes from the L.A. Times Test Kitchen to go with it.

Now. Back to those favas. Wondering what to do with them? How about:

Grilled romaine with fava beans and pecorino

Fava and rice salad with fines herbes vinaigrette

Creamed fava beans with tarragon


--A collection of L.A. Times Food Editor Russ Parsons' California Cook columns

--David Karp's weekly Market Watch column

--Explore your local farmers market

--Rene Lynch
Twitter / renelynch

Photo: Los Angeles Times

Waitin’ on my fava beans

Every morning I go out and inspect the tightly packed bed of fava beans growing in my backyard. And every day they seem to have stretched two inches taller overnight. It's still going to be a while, though. Before they can start producing those fat pods with pale green beans inside, they need to flower. And that hasn't happened yet.

Fava1 (1 of 1)

Meanwhile, I'm dreaming what I can do with them when they start coming in. Of course, I'm going to eat handfuls of the beans raw with a beautiful piece of Pecorino like they do in Rome. But fava beans can also go into a minestrone or a soupe au pistou, the southern France equivalent dosed with a swirl of pistou or pesto. In Bandol I remember peeling fava beans for a dish of the tender young beans sauteed with fresh mint and a squeeze of lemon. Wonderful on an early summer afternoon with a glass of Bandol rosé.

I just spent an hour browsing cookbooks for fava bean recipes. "The Cafe Cookbook" from River Cafe in London has one for frittedda, fava beans braised  in olive oil with quartered artichokes, fresh peas, mint and lemon. According to "The Zuni Cafe Cookbook," Judy Rodgers tosses the raw beans with olive oil, chopped mint leaves, salt, lots of black pepper -- and a squirt of lemon before folding in ribbons of thinly sliced salami and shaved Manchego or Pecorino. In "Chez Panisse Vegetables," Alice Waters proposes a ragout of fresh peas and fava beans with a little chopped basil and a chiffonade of basil or mint.  

Anybody have any other suggestions?

--S. Irene Virbila

Photo by S. Irene Virbila



Wild Greens: My affair with stinging nettles

Nettle patch1 (1 of 1) “Good for stimulating the blood,” a seller at the farmers market told me once, laughing, as he pretended to beat himself on the shoulders with a bunch of stinging nettles. 

Yikes, I’m thinking, as I go skirt the edge of the nettle patch that this year’s rains brought me and a leaf brushes against my ankle. It hurts. I don’t want the nettles to go to waste -- or to go to seed -- before I have a chance to use them, so I'm out here picking them (gloves on, of course).

The other day I made a nettle soup from a recipe in Jonathan Waxman’s book “Italian, My Way“ (Simon & Schuster). Basically you wash and chop the nettles finely, sweat some onions and garlic in olive oil in a big pot, add nettles and a little parsley and cook for a few minutes, then add water, bring to a boil and cook for 15 minutes. Let cool, and put in the blender. Season with salt, pepper and paprika.

Nettle soup1 (1 of 1) The first take was a bit medicinal since the soup is basically just nettles and water. The next day I tried mellowing the taste with a little leek and potato so it didn’t seem quite so thin. I added a touch of cream, not so much that you’d really notice, which definitely improved the taste and garnished the soup with hot paprika and some sauteed fresh shiitake.

That soup, though, barely made a dent in the nettle patch. Next project: nettle pasta from former Oliveto chef Paul Bertolli’s book “Cooking by Hand.” You work the boiled nettles into the semolina dough just the way you would spinach. I remember loving his nettle pasta when I had it at Oliveto years ago.

I want to make a nettle pizza, too. 

In Italy, there’s a great tradition of foraging for wild greens, whether it’s dandelion leaves or arugula or nettles. Now I begin to see why. 

--S. Irene Virbila

Photo credits: S. Irene Virbila


What's hitting its peak in December? Romanesco


What's hitting its peak in December? Romanesco.

This architectural beauty tastes like cauliflower and benefits from the same preparations. Cook it briefly to emphasize the grassy, vegetal aspects of its flavor; cook it longer and a subtle, earthy sweetness emerges. Click here for more, including Times Food editor Russ Parsons' guide to picking the season's freshest produce, including how to select it, store it and prepare it:


-- Bringing vegan to the people

-- A baker's dozen of great cookbooks

-- Recipes from some of fall's best cookbooks

Photo credit: Los Angeles Times

Attention, carnivores! May is National Barbecue AND Burger Month!

Imagine my surprise when I showed up at work and found not one but two wonderful e-mails in my inbox. As if our (finally improving) Southern California weather were not enough, apparently May is National Barbecue and National Burger Month!

Needless to say, I can barely contain myself. I don't know whether to go out to dinner to celebrate ... or give myself some sort of smoky facial by hovering over the grill tonight.

Kirkmckoybrisket In honor of this holiday, we're going to compile some of our favorite burger and barbecue recipes from the L.A. Times' test kitchen's archives.

In the meantime, I'm curious to know what you think are the best joints in town. Where can you find the best burgers and barbecue in Southern California?

I've already picked some brains to get the list going -- and most are around Los Angeles, so we need to broaden the range. Add to it. Challenge it. I double-dog dare you.

Here goes....

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The art of preserving: Seasonal classes at Valerie Confections (poached cherries for your cocktails, fig jam for your cheese board and more)

Asparagus What better way to spend a Saturday afternoon than making strawberry rhubarb jam and pickled asparagus spears?

Valerie Gordon of Valerie Confections and Kevin West of the blog Saving the Season kicked off their series of seasonal preserving lessons on Saturday. A dozen students filled the Valerie Confections kitchens to “find their jam voices,” as Gordon puts it. Gordon sells her own line of preserves, such as Marsh grapefruit, Earl Grey and vanilla bean marmalade and yellow peach and kumquat jam. “I know that before I started doing this, I was intimidated. But this whole process is easier than you think it is,” she said. 

West led the savory portion of the lesson – the pickled asparagus – made with gorgeous fat spears that he had picked up from the Zuckerman’s stand at the Santa Monica Farmers' Market, along with fresh tarragon and green garlic. And Gordon led the sweet side – the strawberry rhubarb jam. Each student made jars of both (those are my pickled asparagus spears pictured at right!).

Gordon and West are excellent teachers, and you'll appreciate their fastidiousness about great ingredients and their artisanal approach to preserving (in which they aim to retain the integrity of fruits and vegetables and forgo the use of too much sugar or any commercial pectin). It's amazing how quickly three hours go by, and after class, students celebrated with glasses of bubbly, chicken and tarragon terrine served with West's pickles (including pickled nasturtium buds -- like capers but "the best capers you've ever had," West says), and strawberry rhubarb fool.

The duo will be teaching the same class this coming Saturday (there still may be a couple of spots left). Here’s the schedule of upcoming classes ($100 per person except where noted):

April 17, 2 to 5 p.m. Spring Preserving: Strawberry rhubarb jam and pickled asparagus spears. 

June 5 (also June 12), 2 to 5 p.m. Entertaining From the Larder: Embellish your cocktails with seasonal ingredients. The menu includes: Poached cherries, citrus in syrup, pickled quail eggs and cocktail onions. (Must be 21 to attend.)

July 10 (also July 17), 2 to 5 p.m. BBQ Basics From the Larder: For your summer backyard entertaining. The menu includes: stone fruit jams, pickled green beans, relish. (Enjoy an early supper from the grill and the jar after class.)

Please see the rest of the schedule after the jump.

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Daily Dish is written by Times staff writers.