Fava Beans & Artichokes: Common Spring Vegetables Combine Well

Alameda Backyard Growers -- Artichokes as they appear after harvest.
Alameda Backyard Growers -- Artichokes as they appear after harvest.

Fava Beans & Artichokes: Common Spring Vegetables Combine Well

Fava beans and artichokes are spring delights in Alameda as they are in Rome where they appear on restaurant menus by themselves, but also together, with fresh peas, often stewed with the now well-known and accepted pork belly, or bacon.

Fava bean seeds can be sown in fall or early spring in Alameda and take about three months to produce while artichoke plants, generally grown from small starters, should be planted in the late summer or fall for spring production and do well for three to five years. They love the temperate climate of the Bay Area.

Both vegetables should be harvested early to be fresh and tasty for cooking. Take off the fava pods while still shiny, green and supple and cut the artichokes before their leaves — actually flower petals — begin to open.

Here are a few ways to prepare these two vegetables, both separately and in combination:

In Italy, artichokes are roasted and sautéed, as well as steamed, and the artichoke stem, which is quite delicious, is always used.

Trimming the chokes seems daunting at first, but, with a little practice, it becomes second nature and yields lovely hearts with trim stems attached, ready for the sauté pan.

Using a sharp, strong knife, cut off the top half-inch. With a paring knife, trim the outer skin of the stem portion down to the base of the choke. Snap off and discard a number of leaves, circling around the base until it appears pale green to white.

Cut the entire choke, including the stem, in half and pull out the prickly section in the center. Have a bowl of water with lemon quarters in it ready to throw in these trimmed sections. Drain before cooking.

The plants in your garden may yield both small to medium sized chokes. You can cut the large ones again in quarters to achieve a consistent size for cooking.

One standard Italian preparation is to sauté these choke sections in olive oil and garlic, for a few minutes. Add fresh or canned tomatoes to your taste and some chopped parsley and cook slowly on the stove for at least 30 minutes until tender. You can add pepper flakes for a little zing. Depending on the number of outer leaves removed, you may still find a few chewy leaves remain.

If you want to conserve these trimmed hearts and stems in oil as an antipasto or for future use, follow these instructions:
Take the trimmed sections (you can separate the chokes from the stems here) and boil in a pan with at least two cups water and a little vinegar for 10 to 15 minutes. Drain until moisture is gone. In a ceramic bowl, combine 4 cloves of garlic chopped, a large handful of chopped mint leaves and 1/3 to ½ cup of olive oil, salt and pepper. Toss in the drained artichokes. Put the mixture in a jar and cover with oil to use when desired.

Fava Beans
These tender little beans are delicious and easy to prepare in myriad ways. After pulling them out of the pod, steam them for a minute or two to release the outer skin. The skins must be slipped off one by one, but the work is worth it.

They can be cooked with onions or garlic, and parsley or tossed with the same and a little oil on top of orzo pasta or with a little steamed or sautéed shrimp.

To create the aforementioned Roman early spring stew, prepare the artichoke sauté above and add these favas and/or some fresh or frozen peas at the last few minutes. If you want to go whole hog and add some pancetta, pork belly or bacon, sauté it with the garlic upfront. Let the whole thing cook, adding each element in its time, for about 30 to 40 minutes. It can even rest before eating, so the flavors develop nicely.

Laura Thomas and Joy Chin Malloy are volunteers with Alameda Backyard Growers (ABG).

ABG is dedicated to teaching our neighbors how to grow food. They offer online and in-person educational programming. Visit ABG at www.alamedabackyardgrowers.org for more information on classes and events, locate the Free Seed Library nearest you, or join Project Pick as a fruit picker or fruit donor. Contact ABG at info@alamedabackyardgrowers.org.