This past weekend was a long one in Italy. Friday was May 1 and is the Italian version of labour day. It used to be that absolutely everything was closed. These days so many stores are open that it’s sort of lost that festive feeling.
One thing though, remains the same in Rome: heading out to the countryside and eating fresh raw fave beans with a chunk of pecorino. While I love this tradition (big piles of beans on the table, that everyone pods on their own) I also love turning this duo into something a bit more substantial (and festive?)
This year I combined the whole May Day fave/pecorino tradition with my own personal spring obsession: wild asparagus. These thin spears start appearing about mid April and by May are all over the place in the woods behind our house in Umbria. I can think of nothing I love more than heading out with my long handled asparagus picker and coming back with a handful of bright green stalks.
Even though I am not as expert as my neighbors, who seem to be able to harvest kilos in minutes, I can always manage at least enough for a frittata, bruschetta or even pasta. They are incredibly intense tasting so a little goes a long way. If you can’t find wild asparagus, don’t worry, you can use thin stalked regular ones.
And no, I don’t peel each individual fave bean. Here in Italy the beans are harvested younger, I think, which makes a difference. I don’t know any home cook who peels them, so I don’t either.
The one thing that I do love when making this particular dish is using some kind of whole grain pasta. I used a package of delicious busiate, made from an heirloom type of week, tumminia, from Sicily. But any other high quality whole grain will do fine.
Did you have a good May day? Did you eat fave and pecorino? I hope so!
- 2 kilos / 4 pounds of fave in pods
- 1 bunch of thin asparagus
- 1 big leek (about 1 cup chopped)
- 4 tablespoons olive oil, plus more
- 1 clove garlic
- ½ tsp black pepper
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 cup mild young pecorino cheese, grated on big holes of the grater
- ½ kilo / 1 pound bussiate (or any whole grain pasta)
- Take the fave beans out of their pods. I don’t take them out of their skins, but if yours are very old and big, with tough skins you might want to. (but I never do)
- Trim the tough part off of the asparagus stalks and cut into 2 inch pieces.
- Finely dice the leek and garlic
- In the meantime pour the olive oil into a pan large enough to hold all of the pasta. Heat and add the leek and onion, with the salt and pepper and let cook over medium heat until softened, about 10 minutes.
- Add the fave beans, and a half cup of water. Cover and let cook until the fave beans are done. The timing will vary depending on the size of your fave beans. Early in the season (now) the beans should still be quite small and fresh, so this should only take about ten minutes or so. If the water dries out, add a bit more. Turn off heat when done.
- Bring a large pot of salted water to boil and add pasta.
- Add the asparagus to the fave, turn on heat and cook until they are just done. Do this just before you serve the pasta to retain their green color. You can add a bit of the pasta cooking water if it seems dry.
- When pasta is about a minute from being done, drain the pasta, retaining a cup of the pasta cooking water.
- Add pasta to the fave mixture, stirring and adding the reserved water a bit at a time, to finish cooking the pasta and letting the flavors meld.
- Take off heat and stir in ¾ of the cheese, a bit at a time.
- Serve topped with a bit more pecorino and fresh pepper.