Something special on the side

Times Staff Writers

THE heady scent of aromatic garlic and rosemary fills the kitchen long before a magnificent roast leg of lamb goes out to the table, and you can picture already all the trimmings of a perfect spring dinner: fresh fava beans and fat asparagus and tender new potatoes to go with all that succulent meat.

The favas are delicately cloaked with a light bechamel, the asparagus dressed simply with hard-cooked egg and anchovy, and those diminutive potatoes are accessorized with butter and fresh herbs -- chervil, dill and chives -- and finished with a sprinkle of fleur de sel. Luxurious, yes, but when these vegetables are handled with finesse, their freshness and delicate texture stand out.

The best way to treat the best of what the season has to offer is to let the beans and shoots and roots speak for themselves. And an unfussy preparation means less time in the kitchen too. Much of the preparation can be done ahead of time, and the asparagus and potatoes can work for a buffet.

With roast lamb as a centerpiece (spectacular but not labor-intensive), you want something special on the side, and shelling fava beans is well worth the trouble on this occasion.

You’ll need a big pile of pods to yield enough favas for a dinner party, but the work can be done as much as a day or two ahead and the shelled beans stored in the refrigerator until you’re ready to cook them.


There’s something gratifying about shelling favas. Slip open their pods, remove the beans and blanch them for 2 to 3 minutes. Then plunge them in cold water before peeling. It’s easy to pop them out of their skins.

You can also prepare the bechamel sauce a day ahead. The sauce is light enough that the favas aren’t smothered but makes them that much more luscious, giving them an herbal depth of flavor from thyme and tarragon that holds up to the aroma of lamb.

Treat bright green asparagus gently too, cooking the spears in simmering water just until tender and dressing them with hard-cooked egg along with anchovy, parsley, shallots and a squeeze of lemon juice.

Look for asparagus spears of about the same size so they reach tenderness in the same length of time.

And finally, the lightest possible potato dish made with small new potatoes -- red and white -- barely kissed by butter and showered with a confetti of bright green herbs. Tiny potatoes such as the white Klamath Pearl that work well for this dish are more perishable than the bigger kinds and should be used within a few days of purchase. No need to peel them, of course, just scrub, steam, drizzle with butter and toss with chopped herbs.


New potatoes with mixed herbs

Total time: About 40 minutes

Servings: 6

Note: From test kitchen director Donna Deane.

1 1/2 pounds mixed red and white new potatoes

1 tablespoon butter, melted

1 teaspoon finely chopped dill

1 teaspoon chives, cut into 1/4-inch pieces

1 teaspoon minced chervil leaves

1/4 teaspoon fleur de sel

1/8 teaspoon freshly ground


1. Rinse the potatoes under cold water and scrub them with a vegetable brush. Cut any larger potatoes in half, leaving only the small ones whole.

2. Put them in the top of a steamer over boiling water. Cover and let the potatoes steam until they are fork tender, 25 to 30 minutes.

3. When the potatoes are tender, remove them to a serving bowl.

4. Drizzle the warm butter over the potatoes and stir to coat. Stir in the dill, chives and chervil. Sprinkle with fleur de sel and freshly ground pepper.

Each serving: 102 calories; 2 grams protein; 20 grams carbohydrates; 2 grams fiber; 2 grams fat; 1 gram saturated fat; 5 mg. cholesterol; 106 mg. sodium.


Creamed fava beans with tarragon

Total time: 1 hour 50 minutes

Servings: 6

Note: From Donna Deane. Fava beans are available at Whole Foods stores and farmers markets.

6 pounds fresh fava beans in their pods

4 teaspoons butter

1 teaspoon minced shallots

4 teaspoons flour

1 cup milk

Small sprig of thyme

1/2 teaspoon lemon juice

1/8 teaspoon minced tarragon

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/8 freshly ground pepper

1. Remove the beans from the pods. Bring a large pot of water to boil, add the beans and simmer about 2 to 3 minutes until the beans are tender and the outer skins are loose. Drain and rinse under cold water.

2. Pop each bean out of its shell. You will have about 2 cups of fava beans. Set the beans aside while making the bechamel sauce.

3. Heat the butter in a small saucepan until melted. Add the minced shallots and saute over medium-low heat until tender, about 1 minute. Add the flour and warm for a minute, stirring. Gradually add the milk and whisk until smooth. Add a sprig of thyme and bring to a simmer. Reduce heat to low and simmer 10 minutes, stirring occasionally to prevent the sauce from sticking to the bottom. Strain through a fine mesh strainer.

4. Stir in the lemon juice, tarragon, salt and pepper.

5. Stir the peeled fava beans into the cream sauce. Heat 1 to 2 minutes just until the fava beans are hot. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Each serving: 441 calories; 37 grams protein; 81 grams carbohydrates; 0 fiber; 7 grams fat; 3 grams saturated fat; 11 mg. cholesterol; 224 mg. sodium.


Asparagus with egg and anchovy

Total time: 35 minutes

Servings: 6

Note: From Donna Deane.

1 1/2 pounds large asparagus spears (about 25 spears)

1/4 cup olive oil

2 anchovy fillets, minced

1/2 teaspoon chopped parsley plus more for sprinkling

1 teaspoon minced shallots

1 1/2 teaspoons lemon juice

Fleur de sel or Maldon salt

Freshly ground white pepper

2 hard-cooked eggs, cut into 1/4 -inch dice

1. Trim or snap tough bottom ends off the asparagus spears. With a peeler, peel the bottom portion of each of the spears.

2. Put the asparagus in a large skillet. Add enough water to cover. Bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook until spears are just tender, about 5 to 7 minutes. Drain and keep warm.

3. Combine the olive oil, minced anchovy, chopped parsley, shallots, lemon juice, fleur de sel (or Maldon salt) and a pinch of ground white pepper, or to taste.

4. Drizzle half the dressing over the hard-cooked eggs and lightly toss with a fork. Arrange the asparagus spears on a serving platter. Spoon the egg over the cooked asparagus spears.

5. Drizzle remaining dressing over the asparagus. Sprinkle chopped parsley over the top to finish.

Each serving: 120 calories; 4 grams protein; 3 grams carbohydrates; 1 gram fiber; 11 grams fat; 2 grams saturated fat; 72 mg. cholesterol; 81 mg. sodium.