From Italy: Shoplifting Nuns + A Classic Two-Ingredient Spring Snack

Team, meet the fava bean.

With their spongy pods and chubby beans, favas don’t come across as particularly posh veggies. But for the past few weeks, as Rome’s grocery stores and markets overflow with the things, folks have been snatching them up like they’re going out of style. Because in a way, they are. 

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See, as favas age, their beans grow sturdy and starchy and their waxy shells develop bitter tannins. In this state, shelling, peeling and cooking are near necessities. But crack open a pod that’s been plucked from the vine now, early in the growing season, and you’ll find beans that are tender, sweet and addictively edible, waxy shell and all.

Guys, these things are so tasty they’ll tempt even a nun to steal a pod or two. Unthinkable? I saw it happen yesterday. Hail Mary!

At this time of year, when favas are at their best, folks across the country eat them raw with pecorino cheese. This combination is a classic.

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From what I gather, “pecorino” is a bit like a last name, used to signify that the many variations of pecorinos share common origins as aged, sheep milk cheeses. (The name pecorino derives from pecora, the Italian word for sheep). And while I’m sure there are loads of pecorinos that pair well with favas, here in Italy it seems there are a few favourites. 

In Rome, the logical choice is Pecorino Romano, the super-salty, crumbly variety characteristic of the region. Down south in Sardinia, the richer and more delicate Pecorino Sardo reigns supreme. And in Tuscany, where I ate favas and cheese this weekend (more on that later!), the regional Pecorino Toscano, a slightly softer and less biting variety, is key. 

Upload from May 15, 2012

Look for favas whose pods are firm and short (not those monster half-footers) and, if you have the chance, taste the beans before you buy them to ensure that they haven’t yet gone bitter. Now hurry home, toss your beans into a big bowl, crack into a pod and enjoy the spoils with a slice of salty pecorino (thinner for Romano, thicker for Toscano and Sardo). And that’s it: cheese and beans. An embarrassingly simple kind of happiness. 

The season for sweet favas is almost up, so act quickly and buy plenty. Hear that, nun? Buy.

Happy snacking, friends!

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