To Shell or Not to Shell

Spring flavors for everyone

Spring flavors for everyone

Nothing says spring like fresh fava beans. I love these things so much that this winter they are going to be an addition to the garden. Before I get to the delicious risotto in the photo though there is a controversy to settle: To shell fresh fava beans or not.

Believe it or not there are people foaming at the mouth over this issue. Now dried fava beans need to be shelled because the tough outer skin is unacceptable. Fresh fava beans are much smaller( no larger than 1″). If they get bigger then they should be dried. There are many people who like to remove the outer skin of the fresh bean and they do this for two reasons. One they look brighter green when cooked. In the photo above I did not remove the outer skin and as you can see the beans are a dull green. The second reason is flavor. The outside shell has most of the bitter taste that make fava beans so complex. Some people do not like the taste as much and, with the skin removed, the beans are much sweeter, like green peas. Of course the price you pay for fava beans means you should like the added bitterness, otherwise just buy green peas. After all they are much cheaper.

In the end the decision to shell the beans twice is up to how they are going to be used. If you are going to eat them raw, which is a really good way especially paired with a sharp pecorino cheese, then leave the outside shell on. The look is still bright green and the loss of flavor is unacceptable. When it comes to cooked fresh beans then it’s up to you. They will look far greener shelled and if mashing the beans to a puree the skins will get in the way a bit. For most other dishes though I prefer to lose some color and gain more flavor. If you do want to shell the beans the easiest way to do it is a quick parboil for a minute and then straight to ice water. It is very labor intensive to remove the skins as well. Now to the dish.

For this risotto, I made a vegetable broth using the discarded fava bean pods, bits from the red onion and then added some carrots, celery and parsley. This created a red colored broth due to the onion which in turn made the risotto a pinkish color. If you prefer the risotto to have a whiter color then use a sweet yellow onion in the broth. I also did not shell the beans, but if you want a greener color or prefer the fava beans to be sweeter then by all means go for it. I felt the extra bitterness helped to offset the lemon and mint very well and really made this risotto scream spring. When buying fava beans expect four cups of pods to equal one cup shelled beans. For those folks new to risotto go here.

Lemon Risotto with Fava Beans and Mint

  • 1 1/2 cups arborio rice
  • 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
  • 1 tbsp lemon zest
  • 1 cup finely minced red onion
  • 4 cups vegetable stock simmering
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • 1/4 cup grated Romano
  • 2 cups fresh fava beans
  • 15 large mint leaves cut into thin ribbons
  • 2 tbsp butter

Heat butter in a large saute pan. Fry onions over low heat until caramelized, about 20 minutes. Add rice and cook over medium until the edges begin to turn clear. Add lemon juice, wine and zest. Cook until absorbed then add broth 1 cup at a time, stirring often until risotto is soft and creamy. Add beans and another cup stock and cook until beans are done, about two minutes. Add cheese and mint, remove from heat and let stand for 10 minutes. Serve with a good dry white wine.

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About Rufus' Food and Spirits Guide

This blog attempts to collect some of the things I try to create with food and booze. Sometimes I succeed and sometimes I fail. My hope is to entertain and maybe help people think a little harder about what they decide to eat and drink.
This entry was posted in Dinner, Food, Garden, Italian, Recipes, Rice/Risotto, vegetarian and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

17 Responses to To Shell or Not to Shell

  1. eva626 says:

    o0o fava beans…i actually finished my term paper and i also mentioned something about fava beans and how its linked to the glucose6phosohate dehydrongenase deficiency…’favism’…interesting stuff and its most common in the middle east and west africa…so to prevent favism, researchers are trying a way to genetically engineer the hypothesized chemicals found in the beans so that those people in that area with the defect, can still have it in their diet.

    um yea..btw it looks great!!!

  2. It looks fantastic. I’m with you, that bitterness is what defines a faba bean, so I’m with the no shell team :)

  3. lvaletutto says:

    This looks like an excellent recipe and is making me reconsider my fear of fava beans (Silence of the Lambs aside).

  4. billpeeler says:

    I have to admit, I know nothing about fava beans, except Hannibal Lector likes them with a nice bottle of chianti :) They look hearty though and I’m sure taste great with that delicious-looking risotto. What a great spring-time dish!

  5. ChgoJohn says:

    First of all, your risotto looks incredible, so creamy! You definitely have the technique down. Oddly enough, my family never cooked fave and I double-checked with Zia to be sure. As you wrote, they were served raw, not shelled, with cheese. As much as my family loved risotto and fava beans, I’m amazed they never put the two together.

  6. Well in Spain we eat the outer pods of the baby ones too, so shelling is not even considered! But I agree, when they are bigger, the shells can be tough. Beautiful dish! Like Chgo John we eat them raw too with cheese or jamon.

  7. laurasmess says:

    Haha… we call these ‘broad beans’ here in Australia, and I ALWAYS shell mine. But.. that’s because I was taught to do so at a young age. By myself, watching a long-forgotten chef on TV. I’ve actually never eaten the outer casing of a fava/broad bean. Now I’m curious to try one, for educational purposes primarily. It’s hard to get fresh ones where I live so I mostly eat frozen or dried ones. I’m imagining, from your comment, that the bitterness would be quite unpleasant in either case… :/

  8. And you didn’t mention the extra fibre you get from the shells! What a lovely dish Greg, and it’s perfect for the warm-ish weather we’ve been having. I love the colour that the beans bring to the dish too. Now I am embarrassed to say, but I’ve never tried a faba bean, and I’m hoping you could describe the flavour of it in terms of other beans (similar to Lima which I adore, BTW?)

  9. Alison says:

    I adore broad beans! And personally, I never shell them, as I enjoy the outer coating and then the soft inner bean. Delicious!! Great recipe.

  10. Carolyn Chan says:

    Your risotto looks soooo good.

  11. I have to admit, it has never occurred to me to NOT shell a lava bean. Clearly I am going to have to reconsider my position on this one.

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