Wednesday, April 27, 2011

springing forward

Ah, spring. The trees are coming back in our neighborhood, down coats have finally been put away in the closet (I think), and signs of the season are starting to pop up at the market.

For a dinner with some friends I desperately missed (after not seeing them for a whole entire month!) I created a menu that was a blatant love letter to the end of this miserable winter: prosciutto-wrapped asparagus spears, herbed ricotta and olives on pita chips, a light and lemony dessert, and a hearty pasta with fava beans.
Fava beans are one of the first harbingers of spring and I try to cook with them at least once before they disappear. And also only once because they're kind of a pain to prepare. The process involves shucking, blanching, and peeling off the waxy shells covering the legumes. It's time consuming but I  kind of like peeling apart the fiberous outer layers and releasing the little beans from their velvety pods. Small pleasures.
Unlike ramps and fiddlehead ferns, spring's other highlight ingredients, favas aren't going to hit you over the head with flavor. They're subtle--I think they taste a little like asparagus. I've added them to pasta primavera and to top ricotta-slicked crostini, but my new favorite recipe with favas is a pasta dish with tomatoes, fava beans, and lamb sausage.

You would think the favas' delicacy would be masked by all those components, but their brightness comes through, both in flavor and color. And what could be more spring-like than ground lamb? I used merguez sausages, which added a nice punch of heat that was tempered by the sweet tomatoes and a dollop of ricotta on top of the whole thing. (Of course you could use pork sausage, or omit the meat altogether but I really recommend using lamb.)

A note about the pasta: the original recipe, from Bon Appetit, calls for sheets of fresh pasta, like linguine noodles, torn into uneven pieces. This makes for interesting presentation, but it was a little sloppy to eat. Or maybe I didn't cut the pieces small enough? Whatever. Try it if you wish, but the next time I make this dish, I will go for a wide fettuccine instead.

Springtime dinner for five
Prosciutto-wrapped asparagus
Herbed ricotta on pita chips with olives
Arugula salad
Pasta with tomatoes, fava beans, and lamb sausage
Meyer lemon semifreddo

Pasta with tomatoes, fava beans, and lamb sausage
Inspired by Bon Appetit. If you can't find fresh favas, frozen will do (and come pre-peeled) as well as edamame, or in a pinch, lima beans.
(Serves about 4 people)

2 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 cup finely chopped onion
2 large garlic cloves, coarsely chopped
1/8 tsp. dried crushed red pepper
3/4 lb. lamb sausage, casings removed (or spicy Italian pork sausage)
1/4 cup dry white wine
1 28 oz. can chopped tomatoes
1 cup shelled fresh fava beans (from about 1 pound), blanched 3 minutes then peeled (or double-peeled frozen, thawed)
1 lb. fresh pasta sheets, cut as desired (or dried egg fettuccine or linguine)
2 Tbsp. finely grated Pecorino Romano cheese plus additional for passing
1 cup ricotta cheese

Heat oil in large saucepan over medium heat. Add next 3 ingredients. Sauté until onion is translucent, about 6 minutes. Add sausages; break up with fork. Sauté until brown, about 3 minutes. Add wine; simmer 1 minute, scraping up browned bits. Add tomatoes and fava beans. Sauté until tomatoes soften, about 5 minutes. Season sauce with salt and pepper.

Meanwhile, cook pasta in large pot of boiling salted water until tender but still firm to bite. Drain, reserving 1/2 cup pasta cooking liquid. Return pasta to same pot.

Add sauce to pasta. Toss over medium heat until sauce coats pasta, adding reserved cooking liquid as needed if dry, about 2 minutes. Mix in 2 tablespoons cheese. Transfer pasta to individual bowls. Top each bowl with a generous spoonful of ricotta.


Candace said...

That looks so yummy! I've never had fava beans before.

Daniel said...

Better start prepping those summer menus. Looking like it could be one of those 2-week New York springs.


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