There are weeks when I doubt myself more than usual, when all I want is some sort of external justification, I want someone or something to give me a reason to believe that everything is going to be OK, that people really do like me, and that it's inner beauty that counts. On weeks like these, I miss home, and when I miss home I do my best to bring home to me. Every spring, when the cherry blossoms start blooming and the baby ducks are following their mother in the 72nd street pond, my mother is insistent on weekly trips to the farmer's market. Aside from tradition, this is pure indulgence, whoever said that only cakes and sweets are indulgent, is just plain wrong. I am the first person to proclaim myself as a sweet tooth, but when I find the freshest, seasonal fruits and vegetables I can't help but think that they are the kings and queens of all things edible, that nothing, no matter how elaborate can surpass the flavors of farm to plate.
The one thing that my mom always buys without fail, are fava beans. Maybe it's that they remind her of her Italian roots, maybe it's that they taste like spring-in-a-pod, no matter what it is, they are always delicious. During our family reunion, we all sat around in the living room, peeling (and then peeling again) fresh favas, popping them one by one into our mouths, desperate to make the process go faster. But favas, like the arrival of Spring, can't be rushed. The methodical double peeling may seem tedious to some, but to me it is soothing, and when I taste the fruits of my labor it is worth the time spent doing it. Although I also enjoy peeling them alone, giving myself time to reflect, the best is sitting side by side with a good friend or a loved one, chatting and not seeing the time fly as the daunting pile of pods slowly dinishes. This also defines the stereotypical image of Italian women, sitting outside their homes doing some kind of handiwork, while chatting away with their neighbors. It's all part of a really beautiful experience, of nurturing, providing and creating. Nurturing the vegetables, providing food for your family and creating friendships and relationships that never really go away.
So, on weeks when the blue sky just doesn't seem blue enough and the heat is a burden rather than a joy, I turn to the flavors of home and slowly, everything falls back into place. This fava bean and sweet pea salad is a springtime staple in my house, the smoky pancetta is an ideal backdrop for the sweet peas and slightly more bitter favas. It is also, incredibly easy, because like I said, when it comes to good vegetables, little to no work is need to make it good.
My Mother's Spring Fava and Pea Salad
Time: about 40 mins., excluding fava peeling.
•Frozen favas can replace fresh, just remember that they also have a skin that needs to be peeled off. Same goes for the peas (minus the peeling part).
•This recipe can easily be expanded or diminished, and the ingredients can be changed pretty easily, chopped asparagus and green beans are other great alternatives.
• 3 c. sweet peas
• 3 c. peeled favas
• 1/4 c. cubed pancetta
• 3 med. shallots, thinly sliced.
• a few tbsp. olive oil
• sprinkle of coarse sea salt
1) Boil the peas and favas in salty water for 5-6 minutes each. Until, they are cooked through but firm. Set aside to cool.
2) Render the fat from the pancetta, until it is crispy. Spoon the pancetta onto a plate. Add 2 tbsp olive oil to the pan with the remaining fat.
3) Gently caramelized the shallots in the same pan.
4) Combine everything in a large serving bowl. Add a bit more olive oil and salt as necessary.
5) Can be served right away, or can be prepared the night or morning before and refrigerated.