Several times a month I talk on the phone with my cousin Connie who lives in Florida. Invariably the conversation turns to food and what we have been cooking. Almost in her mid-eighties, Connie cooks for herself everyday. She is a real inspiration to me. Connie’s mom (my great aunt Calogera) died when Connie was nine, but Connie has very vivid memories of her, mostly involving food. Aunt Calogera was an expert cook and baker. I wish I had known her. During our most recent conversation Connie mentioned that her mother made the most delicious fava bean dish. As she described it, it was something I had never seen any of my relatives cook. She had no written recipe, but she gave me some rough instructions that sounded simple enough, and I love fava beans. The favas (probably the dried variety) were slowly simmered in garlic and olive oil and water until they fell apart into a soupy mixture, then fresh spinach was added and cooked until soft.
My husband came into the house a few days ago with a ten-pound bag of fresh fava beans from our garden. So I decided to try to recreate my Aunt Calogera’s beans. Fava beans are a high-maintenance ingredient; like artichokes, they require some serious work before you can eat them. They must be removed from their pod, boiled, then the outer skin removed. But they are worth the effort. Calogera’s recipe called for spinach, but when I went to the store the spinach looked wilted so I bought red Swiss chard instead. I think it works very well because the sweetness of the chard is set against the slightly bitter beans. When the dish is finished you have green fava bean puree and the darker leafy, reddish chard on top. This is a nice side dish; even my teenage daughter liked it. It could go over pasta or thinned down into a soup. Enjoy with a nice loaf of artisanal bread.
Fava Beans and Swiss Chard
1/4 c. + 3 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
8 cloves garlic, divided and minced
3 c. fresh fava beans, pre-boiled and peeled
1/2 c. chopped grape tomatoes
2 c. chicken broth
1/2 c. water
2 basil leaves, chopped
1 tsp. fresh lemon juice
7 large red Swiss chard leaves, stems removed and chopped
Heat a frying pan with 1/4 c. olive oil. When oil is hot add 4 cloves chopped garlic and saute until soft but not brown. Add fava beans and turn to coat with oil and garlic. Saute for 5 minutes. Add tomatoes and let cook 5 minutes. Mash tomatoes with a fork to release liquid. Add chicken broth, water and basil. Cover and cook 15-20 minutes on medium heat. Mash beans with a fork slightly during cooking. The beans will begin to thicken and turn into something resembling stew. Remove from heat and puree fava mixture in the blender. Add lemon juice. At this point it should look like soup. Pour into a serving bowl and set aside. In the same frying pan add remaining olive oil and, when hot, add 4 cloves of chopped garlic. Cook garlic until it begins to brown. Add Swiss chard. Saute, uncovered, for 5 minutes until chard has wilted and is soft. Place chard on top of fava puree. Serve with bread. Serves 4-5.