Fava beans with "bacon sauce" from Germany

Recently a friend on Facebook asked if fava beans were really "very hipster limas" or "an international culinary treasure." I rallied to the defense of one of my favorite springtime treats, and even suggested a German recipe for them. My vote was for international culinary treasure status.

Fava beans are called broad beans in the UK and Dicke Bohne in Germany, which just means big beans. They regularly showed up at the work cafeteria in Bonn, cooked in what I now see is called "bacon sauce." Fava beans with bacon sauce was usually a 3-euro special, served with a sausage and some potatoes. Not especially fancy, but tasty, filling, and a good price.

I didn't even know I was eating fava beans in those days and when I got back to California and started eating fresh fava beans I still didn't make the connection. Fresh fava beans are a pain to prepare, and you won't find them at the grocery store, but that's kind of what makes them special.

Before we go any further, I should be honest with you that this is not the first dish I would make if I had come into a couple of pounds of fava beans and gone to the trouble to shell them all. Their nutty, buttery, grassy flavor is best left alone, with just a little salt. They make a nice simple chilled soup too, or a spread for crostini.

Another caveat to this recipe: I'm pretty sure that the German recipes often aren't using fresh fava beans and they probably don't go to the trouble to shell the beans twice. Yeah, I'm about to ask you to shell your fava beans twice.

Ok, so let's say you've gotten your hands on bunch of fresh fava beans, it's springtime, but the weather has suddenly turned and you're looking to make something a little more hearty. Now is the time to make fava beans with bacon sauce.

This German recipe was my inspiration. And this article goes into the history of fava beans. They may have been the first legumes eaten by humans.

Shelling fava beans:

The first thing you need to do is peel open all the fava bean pods and pop the beans out. I recommend doing this in front of the television, because it can take awhile.

Now we're going to blanch the beans. Prepare a bowl of ice water and set aside. Bring a pot of water to boil, toss in the beans. For normal preparations (especially if you're just going to eat them with nothing more than a little salt), I recommend cooking them in the water for only two minutes or so. But for this dish, a little longer, say four minutes, is better.

Now drain the beans (setting one cup of the cooking water aside) and add them to the ice water to stop the cooking process. Once they've cooled, they'll be a little wrinkly and you'll see that they actually have a skin that can be removed. Squeeze each bean gently and remove this skin from all the beans. This is where it gets really tedious! But now you should have a bunch of fava beans ready to eat or cook with.

Fava beans with "bacon sauce"
serves four as a side dish

2 cups shelled fava beans and 1 cup of cooking water (see above)
2 thick slices of bacon
3 tablespoons flour
1/2 cup milk

Chop your bacon into small cubes. Cold or even frozen bacon makes this easier. Toss your bacon pieces into a hot pan over medium heat and cook until much of the fat has been released. The bacon can get a little crispy, but it's more about melting off that fat.

Turn down the heat to low and toss in the flour. Stir quickly so that the flour absorbs all the fat. Cook for a few minutes until the flour toasts a tiny bit and gets a little yellow. Then add all the milk at once and whisk quickly so that all the little bits and lumps melt into the sauce. The milk with thicken up very fast.

Stir the shelled fava beans into the sauce. Add a little of the cooking water (or more milk) as needed to keep dish from getting too dry.

Salt to taste and serve with potatoes and a good German sausage.