Friday, June 23, 2006

Favism

Hannibal Lecter enjoyed fava beans with roasted human flesh “and a nice Chianti,” understanding, I suppose, the importance of pairing wines appropriately with food. I haven’t had his dish, but I have spent the past 6 or so early summers eating as many fresh favas as I possibly can.

Known sometimes as broad beans, horse beans, Windsor beans or pigeon beans, favas are a little tricky to prepare but absolutely worth the effort. They are starchy and sweet, like peas, but larger and meatier, and hence, more satisfying. Apparently there is a disease called favism, which I assumed was what I am afflicted with: obsession to the point of mania. In fact, it is a potentially fatal response to fresh, raw fava beans that afflicts some people of Mediterranean descent. There are many possible preparations, some of which intrigue me, but I tend to gravitate towards the classic preparations. In the past month I have had several fava dishes that have made me extremely happy.

The first I had at Otto, Mario’s pizza place on 8th street and 5th avenue. He serves thinly sliced cured meat with a mound of favas in the center of the plate. From what I could discern, they were mixed with minced garlic, grated lemon zest, and minced pecorino. This dish was eaten by taking a slice of meat and grabbing a bit of fava, wrapping the meat around the beans, almost like eating Ethiopian food with injera.

The second was my own version of Mario’s. I sautéed favas with garlic and olive oil, then mixed them with halved grape tomatoes and minced grana padano (like parmiagianno reggiano but a little cheaper), and sprinkled with sea salt. It was incredible, if I do say so myself.

The third was the most simple and classic, at Frankie’s Spuntino on Clinton Street: sautéed favas, olive oil, shaved pecorino, and sea salt. I could have licked my plate clean, EASILY. In fact, the waitress tried to take the plate when there was still one bean on it, and like an alcoholic who freaks out when the bartender removes a glass with alcohol residue at the bottom, I lost my cool. Very embarrassing, but that’s what happens when you suffer from favism.

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