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The aperitif hour: Fava beans and pecorino

April 27, 2012 |  2:00 pm

FavasThis time of year, when fava beans are in season, one of the easiest snacks with a glass of wine is the classic fava beans and pecorino. In Rome right now outdoor market stalls display heaps of the fat green pods. And on May Day, legions of Romans will head out to the countryside for a picnic that includes raw fava beans and pecorino Romano.

I’ve got a bed of fava beans growing in my garden right now, but they’re easy to find at the farmer’s market, too. Serve them in the pod heaped on a platter. The idea is to sit around drinking a crisp cool white, shelling the beans, sprinkling them with sea salt and popping them into your mouth. Alternate with bites of pecorino. That sharp saltiness against the slightly bitter grassiness of the beans is wonderful with Sauvignon Blanc. I like one from Venica & Venica in Friuli.

A friend who grew up outside Rome told me that in spring his grandmother would make cacio e pepe (spaghetti with pecorino and cracked black pepper) with fava beans. Sounds good to me.

The cheese doesn’t have to be pecorino Romano. Italian cookbook author Marcella Hazan actually prefers a pecorino from Tuscany or Sardinia because they’re less sharp and salty. She also gives a recipe for Marò, a Ligurian raw fava bean spread. I’ve adapted it from her book “Marcella Cucina” (Harper Collins, 1997, $35). The only time-consuming step is shelling the fava beans.

1 1/4 pounds unshelled fava beans

2 tablespoons grated pecorino Romano or fiore sardo (a Sardinian sheep’s milk cheese)

1/2 teaspoon very finely chopped garlic

1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil

1 1/2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

6 fresh mint leaves

Freshly ground black pepper

Shell the fava beans and slip your fingernail or the tip of a small paring knife under the pale skin of each bean to peel it away. You should obtain about 1-1/2 cups shelled and peeled beans. If you have less, adjust the quantities of the other ingredients.

Put all the ingredients into a food processor and process to a creamy consistency. Serve on rounds of grilled or toasted crusty bread.



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-- S. Irene Virbila

Photos: fava beans and pecorino Romano. Credit: S. Irene Virbila / Los Angeles Times