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Use a sprinkling of favas to flavor risotto

(ran TP, ST editions)

One of the hallmarks of home cooking is a spirit of making the most out of a little in direct contrast to restaurant cooking. Chefs will brag about reducing 10 pounds of meat and half a bushel of vegetables to a cup of stock. They will employ a battalion of cooks to carve potatoes into shapes that are endearing but _ it must be pointed out _ wasteful.

In some restaurants, it is rumored, they will even serve you fava beans by the bowl.

I bow to no one in my affection for favas, yet it strikes me as ludicrous to serve a whole bowl to anyone outside my family and most treasured friends and then only if they've been very good.

What's so bad about fava beans, you ask? Obviously, you've never dealt with them.

Favas come bound in tight little skins inside a big loose pod, and you almost always buy fresh favas in the pod. First you have to shuck them free of their pods, then you have to blanch them. Finally, you have to remove their tight skins by hand one bean at a time.

The long and the short of it is that it takes 5 pounds of pods to make 1 cup of cleaned fava beans, which is a sensible serving for a person. The combined shucking, blanching and peeling takes a couple of hours of work. I know because I kept track one long, exasperating afternoon.

Yet, how can you have spring without fava beans?

The solution: Be cheap, both with your money and with your time. I use fava beans almost as garnishes _ scattered among other ingredients, like emerald green spring petals. That way, a single pound of them can go a long way.

Favas used this way can brighten spring soups or stews or pasta sauces. This risotto is but one example. I don't know where the combination of baby artichokes, fava beans and spring onions first occurred, but it is a natural for this time of year.

It is also quite cheap. Not only are you making judicious use of favas, you're using baby artichokes as well, and they are one of the great bargains of the spring produce bin. They are not truly babies; they are fully grown but just happen to be small.

Every artichoke plant sets a certain number of shoots. The central one will bear one giant bud; the surrounding shoots produce smaller ones.

Most Americans think of artichokes only in terms of steaming and dipping, in other words, serving them whole. The biggest, roundest artichokes are the only ones that will do.

Not only is there only one of these a plant, they are very much in demand as well. Meanwhile, the smaller artichokes are scorned.

As a result, the little guys are cheap. They do take work but not nearly as much as the favas. What's even better, when you're done, you can eat the whole thing, which is something you can't say about those expensive big artichokes.

A lot of mystique has built up around risotto, perhaps because it's so often done badly in restaurants. If the pros have a hard time with it, it must be difficult, right?

Wrong. The pros have a hard time with it because they insist on trying to do it in advance to be finished off at the last minute.

Risotto is a dish that suffers no shortcuts. You must be committed to doing it the right way, but the good news is that the right way is very easy. Most risottos can be on the table in about half an hour. This one, which takes a fair amount of advance preparation, is ready in 45 minutes.

There's a new, allegedly time-saving product on the market called "par-boiled Arborio." Don't bother. We tested it in the kitchen and found that it saved only 5 minutes' cooking time while losing a great deal in terms of flavor and texture.

Risotto of Baby Artichokes,

Fava Beans and Spring Onions

1 pound fava beans, in shell

1{ pounds baby artichokes

Juice of 1 lemon

1 bunch spring or green onions

1 14{-ounce can chicken or vegetable broth

2 tablespoons olive oil

Salt

3 cups Arborio rice

2 tablespoons butter

4 sprigs mint

Sheets of Pecorino Romano for garnish

Shell favas and place beans in large bowl. Cover with boiling water and let stand 5 minutes. Drain beans in colander and rinse in cold water. Peel tough skins by cutting one end with thumbnail and squeezing other end with thumb and forefinger. Bean will shoot out; aim carefully. Set aside.

Trim baby artichokes. Remove tough outer leaves until leaves are pale green. Cut away top of leaves. Using paring knife, peel tough green skin from base and stems (do not remove stems). Cut each artichoke in quarters lengthwise and set aside in cold water to which you have added lemon juice.

Trim roots and dark green tops from onions and then cut onions in {-inch lengthwise segments.

Combine chicken broth and enough water to make 8 cups in large pan and bring to boil over high heat. You probably will need 6-7 cups, but broth will reduce during boiling.

Heat olive oil, drained artichokes and onions in large skillet over medium-high heat. Cook, stirring occasionally, until artichokes and onions begin to soften, about 5 minutes. Season with salt.

Add rice and cook, stirring, until all grains are coated with oil and outer covering becomes slightly translucent, about 3 minutes.

Begin adding hot broth, starting with 1 cup at a time. Cook, stirring, until broth has all but evaporated, leaving only film in bottom of pan, about 5 minutes. Add another cup of broth and repeat. After second cup, begin adding broth {-cup at a time, repeating procedure until rice grains are swollen and tender to the bite. Rice should be firm but not chalky at the center.

Remove from heat and immediately add fava beans, butter and 4-5 leaves of mint and stir vigorously to incorporate butter. Season to taste with salt and serve immediately, garnishing with remaining mint leaves.

For the garnish, cuts sheets from the pecorino with a vegetable peeler.

Makes 6 servings. Per serving: 721 calories, 484 mg sodium, 11 mg cholesterol, 11 gm fat, 127 gm carbohydrates, 31 gm protein, 3 gm fiber.

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