Just about a year ago I wrote about a favorite early-summer dish: Pasta with peas. It was made with Italian speck and cream, it used the tiny dried pasta called perline, and it was – and is – delicious.
So far this season, Jackie and I have (repeatedly) been eating our peas just cooked à la française with spring onions, bacon, lettuce and butter, which makes the best of dinners with grilled bread or plain steamed new potatoes. That isn’t to say pasta has been neglected: we had a variant on peas-and-perline the other day, and it was different enough to merit a place in the summer repertoire.
For one thing, it used bow tie pasta – farfalle – made of fresh egg pasta. As you can see in this video from Mario Batali, these are easy to make but time-consuming. So you’d need to set aside half an hour for the task. You could buy them ready made, of course, or simply cut your fresh pasta into 1-by-2-inch strips (2.5 by 5 cm). Figure on 3 ounces (85 g) of pasta per person for a moderate main course.
And instead of using cream, which can be cloying, I made a light béchamel using 1-1/2 tablespoons (20 g) of butter, 2-1/2 tablespoons (roughly the same weight) of flour and 1-1/2 cups (350 ml) of milk, plus salt and pepper. Once you’ve made a flour-and-butter roux, start with 3/4 of the milk, then once the sauce has thickened add more if necessary to attain the consistency of heavy cream (or melted ice cream – a more appealing image at the height of summer). That quantity was for three portions, as are the photographs below. I then turned the béchamel into a cheese sauce by whisking in a big handful of grated parmesan over low heat.
The final difference was crucial: fava beans (broad beans) instead of peas. While still summery-green and fresh-tasting, favas have a nutty, even slightly bitter flavor and a more substantial texture than peas. They can be a nuisance to prepare – nowhere nearly as much fun as shelling peas. Get them out of their thick, cotton-lined pods however you can – some will pop open like pea pods, but they are usually more resilient and need to be torn open – then blanch them in boiling water for 30 seconds and chill them in a bowl of cold water. Now you must skin them: pierce the tough skin with a thumbnail, then squeeze to extract the beautiful bright-green beans. That part is easy and enjoyable. Happily, you won’t need more than 1/3 cup (80 ml by volume) per person.
From here, proceed as for last year’s pasta and peas dish: take a small handful of smoked Italian speck cut into short matchsticks (or substitute prosciutto) and cook it gently in butter for a minute or so. Add parmesan-enhanced béchamel and simmer for a minute or two to enable the speck to flavor the sauce, then turn off the heat while you boil your pasta. When this is halfway done, reheat the sauce and add the favas – they’ll need only a moment to finish cooking – then stir in the pasta. Adjust seasoning and consistency: if the sauce is too thick, it will get cludgy on the plate, so add a little milk or cream if necessary. There’s no need to add additional parmesan at the table, though it would be polite to offer some.
Fava beans are always worth the bother of shelling and peeling, but a bother it is; beyond its deliciousness, this dish has the advantage of not needing a huge pile of beans while unmistakably showcasing their unique flavor.