There is something about a big steaming bowl of soup that just satisfies the soul. As a starter, before a feast, or a whole meal mopped up with crusts of bread, soup is primal.
One of my favorite soups to make is minestrone. This may be because I grew up in an Italian family and minestrone is basically Italy’s answer to chili. Aside from beans, all the other ingredients can be whatever may be on hand at the time. Heck, even the type of bean is really up for grabs for the most part. Or so I thought.
About a year ago, I came across a container of enormous dried fava beans in an Italian market in St. Louis. I had heard about the many uses of fava beans and had already tried some fresh variations. Naturally, I deduced that the dried beans would yield just as many interesting possibilities, so I bought them.
After returning home, I began searching for recipes that called for fava beans. I quickly found many excellent ideas that called for fresh shelled beans. After further research, it became clear that once dried the beans lost most of their flavor and gained a lot of toughness. Furthermore I discovered that the bigger the bean the tougher it was, much like lobster. Therefore the tub of dried beans sat untouched in the cabinet for a long while.
Fast forward a bit and it begins to get cold and dreary outside after Thanksgiving. I have a whole lot of leftover vegetables going bad and bits of meat in the fridge. Perfect conditions for a batch of minestrone. While searching for kidney beans I came across the container of favas buried deep in the pantry and thought why not. So I soaked both types in the morning.
That afternoon I lifted the lid and discovered the fava beans had puffed up to three times their size. Cool, I thought, this should be good.
Two hours later I had a delicious pot of minestrone simmering and took a bite of a fava bean. The taste was nutty and delicious but the texture was still tough and I noticed that the skin had separated from the bean. I also noticed the skin was the tough part and the bean was fairly tender. It was at this moment I realized why every recipe I had read about fava beans said to remove the husks before cooking. My mistake was thinking that the skins had been removed before the drying process. Later I discovered the beans would be a light greenish white color if the skins were removed before drying from a couple of online recipes. If after the initial soaking I had cut the skin from the beans this soup would have been excellent.
That being said I just cooked it longer at the time hoping to soften the skins like most other beans. Thankfully I had plenty of fresh stock to add to the pot as it cooked and finally the beans got to a consistency where you could chew them. Then I added the meat and other vegetables and, three hours after the fact, the soup was ready.
The flavor of the fava beans was phenomenal. The texture was still tough. The skins had softened enough to chew but the insides had overcooked. The broth had an excellent taste and the soup was still satisfying, much like chili can fail but still taste good. I realized that dried fava beans are too much work for their few uses and from now on I will only buy fresh on special occasions. To be honest, the fresh ones are even more work.