If fava beans are in the market, you know it’s spring, or spring somewhere nearby. Their giant green pods look like something strange and juicy, perhaps from another planet. In fact, they are the original Mediterranean bean. Early favas are small and tender; they get starchier as the season progresses. Favas are more than a little fussy to peel, but peel you must to appreciate them fully. Fresh fava beans are so good, though, they are worth the effort.
I usually try to enlist help and I always wish I had a houseful of kids or a couple of resident grandmothers… peeling favas makes a nice multigenerational chore. For this salad, the fava beans are removed from the pods, cooked briefly, peeled, and combined with thinly sliced raw fennel (or you could use raw artichokes or asparagus).
- 8-10 pounds fresh young fava beans in the pod (10 pounds will yield about 6 cups beans)
- 3-4 fennel bulbs, about 2 pounds
- 1 bunch scallions, thinly slivered
- Sea salt
- Freshly ground pepper
- Fruity olive oil
- 1 bunch mint
- 1 lemon
- 12 slices cured ham, such as jamón serrano or prosciutto
- Arugula leaves (optional)
Shuck the fava beans from their pods. To remove their skins, blanch the beans in boiling water for 10 seconds, then cool in a large basin of ice water. Pop out the beans, piercing the gray-green skin with your thumbnail to free the bright green, barely cooked bean. Cover the favas with a damp towel.
Trim and wash the fennel.
When you are ready to make the salad, slice the fennel into thin shreds (a mandoline works well for this) and put them in a bowl. Add the fava beans, scallions, and a good sprinkling of sea salt. Drizzle generously with fruity olive oil to coat. Coarsely chop the mint leaves and add them, then squeeze the juice of half the lemon over the salad. Toss well with your hands, then taste and correct with salt, oil, and/or lemon juice.
Pile the salad onto a large platter, add a few grinds of black pepper, and surround with thin slices of mountain ham, such as jamón serrano or prosciutto. Or julienne or tear the ham into strips and scatter over the salad. Garnish with a few arugula leaves if you like, and serve immediately.