The first produce of spring gets chefs all excited. Mike Lata, chef-owner of highly acclaimed restaurants FIG and The Ordinary in Charleston, South Carolina, considers fava beans to be the ultimate signal of the mild new season. "They're inspiring, from a chef's perspective, after working with the same turnips and hardy winter greens for the last several months," he says. "They're tender and sweet. They completely symbolize spring." Favas are not in every market—farmers' markets and gourmet grocers are your best bets—and they take a little extra work to prep (pulling them from their big green pods and then peeling the individual beans). But they're worth the effort. "It's a labor of love for that home cook," Lata says. In his restaurants, Lata and his staff sometimes prepare them as a puree with a little olive oil, garlic, and lemon for a bright-flavored crostini topping. If he can spare enough hands, his staff might make a pureed fava been soup. But sprinkling favas into a salad is one of the simplest ways to showcase their nutty, slightly sweet flavor and tender, creamy texture. Favas are blanched very briefly for this salad. Cook time depends on how young the raw favas are—if they're tender enough, Lata says, they don't need to be cooked at all. He pairs the beans in traditional Italian fashion with salty sheep's-milk cheese and fresh lemon juice, then adds a little more of spring's bounty with peppery radish slices. Shaved fennel adds fragrant crunch, while the walnuts "give the salad a little weightiness, making it that much more satisfying." Try Lata's original version of the fava bean salad in April at his FIG restaurant in Charleston.
Fava Bean Salad with Fennel and Radish Hands-on: 30 min. Total: 30 min. Lata uses Singing Brook cheese, an artisanal aged sheep's-milk cheese produced by Blackberry Farm in Tennessee. To best gauge the doneness of the beans, Lata removes the tough outer skins with a pairing knife first, before blanching. This can be tricky for cooks new to favas, so instead we remove the skins after blanching, which makes the job a little easier. If fava beans aren't available, Lata recommends substituting English peas. Or use edamame, as we did.
- 1 1/2 pounds unshelled whole fava beans (about 1 cup shelled)
- 1 1/2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
- 1 1/2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1/8 teaspoon salt
- 2 cups very thinly sliced fennel bulb
- 2 cups arugula leaves
- 1/4 cup thinly sliced radish
- 1/4 cup walnuts, toasted and chopped
- 1.5 ounces Singing Brook or pecorino Romano cheese, crumbled (about 1/3 cup)
- Remove shells from beans. Place beans in a large pot of boiling water; cook 20 seconds. Drain; rinse with cold water. Drain well. Remove and discard tough outer skins from beans.
- Combine juice, oil, pepper, and salt in a large bowl, stirring with a whisk. Add beans, fennel, and arugula; toss to coat. Place about 3/4 cup fennel mixture on each of 6 plates. Sprinkle evenly with radish, walnuts, and cheese.