Notes From the Garden: Fava Beans
I have always held an affinity for the Fava bean. Their long, bright green, lumpy pods, herald the beginning of spring. It was not until I realized the full potential of the Fava bean that my infatuation truly began. I consider myself fortunate to live in the Napa Valley where our Mediterranean climate provides us with access to a huge range of delicious, local produce including Fava beans!
My first encounter with fresh Fava beans began ten years ago upon my arrival in the Napa Valley. I was intrigued by the rumored time consuming process of preparing fresh Fava beans before I had the opportunity to see the pods. That spring I jumped at the chance to grab a bag at our local farmers market. I found the Fava preparation to be fun and somewhat soothing. First you shell the beans, then cook them in boiling water for a very short amount of time, and then you pop the beans out of their “skins” before adding them to the dish. Fava beans have a subtle, nutty, green, flavor and a silky smooth texture. Not only are the beans edible, but the leaves are as well – the potential for this bean is endless.
Fall of 2009 was my first attempt at growing Fava beans in the Auberge du Soleil garden. I was not certain it would work because I have not had very much luck growing other bean varieties from seed, but yet I prepared the soil after the autumn harvest and planted dried Favas. After a month or so I saw a little sprout, one for every seed. I enjoyed watching their progress and their green dots provided a nice relief to the otherwise sparse winter garden.
In Napa, Fava beans are so popular; vintners use them as a cover crop and can be found abundantly between the vineyard rows in the spring. Fava bean plants help prevent erosion during the rainy season, but most importantly, they are considered to be the best nitrogen fixer for the soil within and farmers turn them into the soil at the end of their season.
My Fava bean plant experiment in the Herb Garden at Auberge du Soleil exceeded my expectations, they grew well beyond the anticipated four feet and I waited impatiently for the pods to form. After the pods plumped up and the Fava beans were large enough to be worthy of shelling, the plants were harvested at the beginning of May. The Fava beans themselves were an added perk since the ultimate purpose for their planting was to add nutrients to the soil. I then chopped the plants and added the green mulch to the soil.
The Auberge du Soleil Fava bean season now moves into summer vegetables… with tomatoes which you will see on our chef’s menu soon!
Fava Bean Panna Cotta
By: Executive Chef Robert Curry
Serves 22 panna cotta
- 2 ½ cups cream
- 1 teaspoon garlic, chopped
- 2 leaves gelatin
- 3 cups fava beans, cooked
- ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
- to taste salt
- to taste black pepper, freshly ground
- Place the gelatin in cold water to bloom
- When soft, squeeze out water and place it in a pot with the cream and garlic
- Bring the cream to a boil and cool to room temperature
- Place the cream and fava beans in a blender
- Blend until smooth
- With the blender running add the olive oil
- Season to taste with salt and pepper
- Pass through a chinois
- Fill vessels and refrigerate until set
Serving Suggestions: Top with a duxelle of wild mushrooms and bacon lardons.