Fava Beans and Garlic Whistles…

Back in the land of milk and honey, last Saturday I ventured downtown to the very established Eugene Saturday Market. After struggling with the sadly under performing downtown farmers market in Greenville, SC my spirits soared with this robust, ebullient, slightly off tilt extravaganza in full glide.

There was chatter among the vendors, some thought it a little slow for this time of year. Were the nearby Olympic Trials creating competition instead of a draw? From my starving perspective there were plenty of folks milling about, shopping, chatting up the eclectic artisans and vendors promoting their tie-dyes, pottery, astrological advise and such. The food booths were surrounded by swarms of hungry diners and undecided debaters, others simply gawk and support nearby impromptu musicians.

The real sensory overload for me was across the street on yet another block showcasing a bustling assortment of local farmers, nurserymen, bakers and related merchants. To this point, I have maintained some level of composure, but fully loose it here! Healthy, charming plants I’ve never seen before are provided with personalized handling instructions; abundant displays of handcrafted breads and fresh baked sweets are intertwined with artisan honeys, jams and preserves; a procession of booths brimming with pristine organic produce: multi-colored radishes, fresh berries, cherries of every type, kales, lettuces…

At one booth, Jessie stops mounding green beans long enough to tell me about their latest crop of fava beans – something I’ve always wanted to try. Shell them like peas she explains, they are so young and tender they haven’t yet grown the tough outer skin that can form around more mature beans.

Next to the fava beans are tidy bunches of thin green, snaky looking things Jessie calls Garlic Whistles. I love it! Alice Waters also refers to them as Green Garlic, they are the tender stalks of the garlic plant plucked before the bulb forms.  Into my politically correct market bag they go!

Much later… I stand transfixed in my kitchen staring down at my morning haul.  When I was little I could not abide lima beans – my mom’s version were were flavorless, dry, and chokingly inedible. As I begin the tedious shelling process my biggest nightmare sets in:  these guys remind me of those dreaded lima beans.

Nevertheless, with ultimate faith in Alice Waters’ judgement and Jesse’s encouragement I cautiously press on. I cook them only long enough to soften them, al dente perhaps, but not bleach out their vibrant green.

Whoa!  Delicious and creamy, with a slight bit of texture from the skin – their subtle flavor reminds me of roasted chestnuts. So simple, so complete, the crunchiness of the mild garlic whistles, the fresh herbs and the pasta all soar in a triumphant symphony. Unfounded fear, thank you, Alice.

Fava Beans and Pasta
Adapted from Chez Panisse Cafe Cookbook by Alice Waters
1 lb pasta, garganelli, penne, or a shell of some sort
3 cups fava beans, young and tender; 2 lbs in shell, blanch, peel
3 tbsp olive oil, more if needed
1/2 cup garlic whistles, mince, cut off the tough flower end
1/3 cup green onions, chopped
1 tsp winter savory
1 tsp rosemary
lemon juice, a few drops to taste
2 tbsp parsley, chopped
4 oz feta cheese, crumble or shave
olive oil for drizzling

Cook the pasta al dente. Reserve a cup or so of pasta water.

Meanwhile prepare fava bean ragout by heating about 3 tbsp olive oil in skillet over moderate heat. Add the fava beans, the garlic whistles, the herbs, freshly ground pepper and salt to taste. Gently cook until onions are soft and beans are tender, about 5 minutes. Add a splash of pasta water to keep moist, stir in the green onion towards end of this process to avoid overcooking.

Drain the pasta and combine the ragout and pasta in pot over low heat to gently heat and coat pasta thoroughly; add pasta water if dry. Squeeze lemon juice over the mixture, season to taste. Transfer to serving platter and garnish with cheese and parsley, drizzle with extra virgin olive oil and serve. Serves 4 or more. ~~

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