On Fava Beans In The Spring

It's springtime, and tender, delicious fava beans are (or will soon be) coming into season. Roman correspondent Alibaba brings us up to date on some of the strange history around the ancient legume, and we'll be running his super-simple recipes all week. Viva la fava!

Well, it was recently Easter, and besides the tons of lamb slaughtered and served everywhere in the world thanks to Jesus' law, an ancient and little-used bean has started to appeared in our markets: fava beans, also known as broad beans. Let me tell you a little bit about this incredibly versatile legume.

Originating in North Africa and China some 5,000 years ago, fava beans were cultivated by Egyptians, Greeks and Romans. It may have been the first legume to be eaten by man, since it doesn't really need to be cooked at all. It's rich in trace elements like magnesium, potassium, iron, selenium, copper and zinc. It's a great source of non-animal proteins and is very low in calories when consumed fresh (36 calories per 100 grams).

Fava beans can be bought dried for some preparations, but be aware than in its dry form the calorie count jumps up to 360 per 100 grams! Also be aware that if you are lacking a very particular enzyme (called G6PD) in your system, fava beans are VERY dangerous for you, causing serious anemic fits that have been known to lead to death in some cases; this condition is called, of course, favism. If you don't have this problem, then fava beans are really good for you: for draining your urinary system, protection against kidney stones, urinary infections, constipation, fatigue, high cholesterol and high glycemia. You can even mix fava bean flour with a little lukewarm milk and wear the compund as a mask on your face to alleviate sun spots.

The fava bean flower has black spots on its petals, which is very strange for a plant, since the color black is almost non-existent in nature. It is for this very reason that the fava bean was considered "food for the dead" in ancient times. Black was the color symbolizing death and the souls of the deceased in ancient Greece; that's why Pythagoras forbade their consumption and wouldn't even go near them. In fact, when escaping from his enemies he preferred to be captured and killed rather than save himself running through a field of fava beans! Aristotle, on the contrary, praised their virtues. The Greeks even used fava beans for voting law decrees: white beans for yes, black beans for no.

In Roman times, the fava bean was considered food for the poor, used mainly as an offering to commemorate the dead at the beginning of November (the 1st of November is still the Day of the Dead). The name of an ancient Roman family the Fabi (Italian rocker Niccolò Fabi is a descendant), comes from the fava bean, as do the common names Fabio, Fabia and Fabiola.

The word "fava" is also used in some dialects, especially in Toscana, describing mostly the male genital organ, much like "pisello" (pea). I thought it was because of the phallic form of its pod, but when I researched it I discovered that it was the bean itself that was in fact associated with the gland.

Two particular expressions involving the fava bean are worth mentioning before we get started with fava bean recipes. The first one, used in Tuscany: "'un capisci 'na fava," which translates to "you don't understand shit." The other, more common throughout Italy, goes like this: "prendere due piccioni con una fava" meaning "to kill two birds with one stone." Which makes me think that fava beans were also used as bullets at some point...

Okay, onto the recipes. First up, Fava Beans with Bacon