Globalization is not always a bad thing. These days you can go off to an Argentina-born friend’s birthday party in Italy and come home with a California solution to one of the universal kitchen mysteries: how to cook fava beans without seven hours of prep work.
Before this revelation, I considered favas the Brazil nuts of beans. First, you have to shell them, then you have to slip a tight skin off every single one. The naked legumes are worth the struggle, but you still wind up throwing out about two-thirds of what you pay for. I found the antidote as soon as I walked into a kitchen in the Medici villa outside Florence, where Judy Rodgers of Zuni Cafe in San Francisco was doing the hors d’oeuvres. Another guest shoved a plate covered with charred green things at me and said: “Taste this. They’re amazing.”
The fava pods had just been grilled in a basket over smoldering coals, and the beans inside were soft and smoky. Essentially they had steamed in their husks; they had turned tender enough to pop like edamame, skin and all. We could even eat the oozy blackened pods.
Rodgers later explained her eureka moment. She had been giving a tour of the Center for Urban Agriculture at Fairview Gardens, north of Santa Barbara, during a teaching gig when one of the harvesters asked what to do with the fava beans growing there and another responded, “We throw them on the grill.”
It was an idea too weird not to try on purists in Italy. Rodgers’ method is to lightly oil and salt the pods and lay them on a super-hot grill for a couple of minutes until they get “jail marks.” (They take a little longer on a stove-top grill.) It may not be as Tuscan as grilling radicchio, but you’re left with a finger food as salty and satisfying as corn on the cob.