Tag: broad beans

Fava Beans, Bigilla and the Silent City of Mdina

Bigilla with Oregano

Here’s another speciality of the Maltese Islands, the famous and delicious Bigilla! This country dish is made of cooked dried fava beans, garlic, olive oil, dried chili pepper and herbs. I like to mix in fresh oregano, other recipes feature mint, basil or marjoram. Bigilla is a thick dip, often served with fresh bread as an appetizer in restaurants. In the past and occasionally even today, street venders sell this dish in the streets of Valletta and other old villages but it’s also very easy to make at home, preferably in big batches!

Bigilla with Oregano

I first ate Bigilla years ago in a pretty little restaurant in one of the narrow streets of Mdina, Malta’s magical old capital. The medieval town’s architecture was originally influenced by the Arabic period, from 870 to 1091. After many buildings were destroyed in an earthquake in 1693, they were rebuilt with Baroque elements in their majestic facades. Its history goes back even further, to 4000 BC. Mdina is located on a hilltop in the middle of Malta and it always had strategic importance for the island. Today, less than 300 people live in the old houses and palazzi and no cars are allowed, just the inhabitants have permission to drive through the tiny roads. It’s one of the most peaceful and quiet towns I know which explains its nickname, the Silent City. The foundation of the new capital Valletta was laid in 1566, it’s much bigger than Mdina and located right above the Grand harbour, one of the most important harbours of Europe at that time.

When we go to Mdina, we always stop at a little bar, Crystal Palace, which is at the entrance of a town right opposite Mdina, in Rabat. It’s famous for its Qassatat and Pastizzi, I mentioned the two delicacies a couple days ago when I wrote about our grilled amberjack from Marsaxlokk. If you ever visit Mdina, you should enter this simple looking bar and enjoy a couple of their buttery snacks!

Bigilla with Oregano

 

Bigilla with Oregano

Bigilla with fresh Oregano

You have to soak the dried fava beans in cold water overnight.

For 6 people you need

dried fava beans 400g / 14 ounces
olive oil 100ml / 3.5 ounces
water 150-250ml / 5-8 1/2 ounces, more depending on the bean’s texture
small dried hot chili peppers, chopped, 2
garlic, crushed, 5 big cloves
fresh oregano leaves, chopped, 1 1/2 tablespoons plus more to taste
salt

Cook the soaked beans in lots of water (no salt!) until soft, for around 45-60 minutes.

Mix the beans, olive oil, water, chili peppers, garlic and oregano and purée to a smooth paste in a blender. Season with salt and oregano to taste, add more water if the texture isn’t smooth enough.

Enjoy with bread or crackers.

Bigilla with Oregano

 

Bigilla with Oregano

 

Bigilla with Oregano

 

Bigilla with Oregano

 

Bigilla with Oregano

Bean and Bacon Salad with White Balsamico and Lemon Thyme

Fava Bean, Bacon + Thyme Salad

There is something really satisfying about deglazing tiny, crunchy cubes of bacon with sweet Balsamico vinegar. Be it the white or the dark one, both coming from Modena, this vinegar merges with the oily bacon juices to a thick, sweet and sour syrup. It is very concentrated, a great dressing to glaze hearty and crunchy salads like beans and cabbage. A few spoons enrich the vegetables with the whole range of the vinegar’s aroma together with the meat’s smoky saltiness.

I like to use this dressing for my traditional Bavarian cabbage salad as it brings out a sweet smoothness in the strong cabbage. Today it refines my fava beans, crunchy and green, cooked in salted water for around 6 minutes until they were al dente and rinsed with cold water. I peeled the beans out of their transparent shells for this salad and added some lemon thyme, salt and pepper.

As always, there is lots of peeling involved when there are fava beans on the table, I had 130g / 4.5 ounces of peeled beans after I started with 700g / 1.5 pounds of the fleshy pods. It was enough for the 2 of us as a side dish. I fried 30g / 1 ounce of bacon cut into tiny cubes in a little olive oil for a few minutes until they were golden brown and crisp before I deglazed it with 25ml / 1 ounces of white Balamico vinegar. I scraped the bits and pieces off the bottom of the pan and poured the syrup and bacon over the beans immediately. It just needed a little salt as the bacon added quite a bit of saltiness to it, some ground black pepper and a few fresh leaves of my lemon thyme on top and the salad was done!

Fava Bean, Bacon + Thyme Salad

 

Fava Bean, Bacon + Thyme Salad

Parmesan Risotto with crunchy Fava Beans

Parmesan Risotto with Fava Beans

When my sister told me abut her latest risotto discovery from her trip to Italy, she sounded so thrilled that I couldn’t wait to get the pot on the cooker. She was talking about a parmesan risotto which by itself isn’t necessarily spectacular but this one is different. It’s made with bigger pieces of cheese which are stirred into the creamy rice when the risotto is done. The parmesan melts, partly, but a few crumbs keep their crunchy center which makes it taste stronger, more concentrated. I was absolutely impressed, this method of preparation lifts parmesan risotto onto another level!

I had some fava beans left on my window sill which I added to the rice, I prefer to have some vegetables with my risotto. Be it a simple salad or some sautéed greens on the side, I need my vitamins as much as my carbohydrates! I fried the beans with some garlic, deglazed them with white wine and let them simmer for a few minutes. I wanted them al dente, a crisp topping for my smooth risotto!

I cooked the risotto with the water I had used to cook asparagus in a few days ago. It’s a light broth which I always keep and freeze, great for recipes which need a soft vegetable aroma.

Parmesan Risotto with Fava Beans

Parmesan Risotto with Fava Beans

For 4-5 people you need

Arborio rice 400g / 15 ounces
medium sized onion, chopped finely, 2
broth around 2200ml / 4.5 pints
parmesan, cut into 1cm / 1/2″ cubes, 80g / 3 ounces
fava beans, peeled out of their pods and shells, 800g / 28 ounces (around 300g / 10.5 ounces peeled beans)
garlic, roughly chopped, 1 clove
white wine 120ml / 4 ounces
salt and black pepper
olive oil for frying
butter 2 tablespoons

In a large pan, heat a little olive oil and 1 tablespoon of butter, add the garlic and beans and fry on a medium heat for a few minutes until golden. Deglaze with half of the wine and let it cook for a minute. Season with salt and pepper and add the rest of the wine, close with a large lid and let it simmer for 5 minutes or until al dente. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

In a large pot, fry the onions in a little olive oil and 1 tablespoon of butter until golden and soft, stir in the rice and fry on a medium heat for a minute. Add some of the broth, the rice should be covered, stir and turn the heat down to medium-low. When the liquid has been absorbed add more broth, a little at a time stirring in between. Depending on the rice, it needs more or less liquid. When the rice is al dente and the broth is more or less absorbed take it off the heat, season with salt and pepper to taste and stir in the parmesan, close with a lid and let it sit for a minute. Arrange on plates together with the fava beans.

Parmesan Risotto with Fava Beans

 

Parmesan Risotto with Fava Beans

Fava Bean Pesto with Mint on a Sandwich

Fava Bean Pesto with Mint

Finally, fava beans are back in season and just peeling them is a sensual experience! These beans are crunchy beauties wrapped in silky transparent shells, protected by the velvety inside of their fleshy pods. To peel them, smell them and finally taste them is a spring highlight to me! I know it sounds a bit overwhelming, but spring vegetables have this effect on me. Luckily, the preparations have a meditative side effect as you have to buy lots of  beans to end up with just a handful of this green treasure, but the effort is worth it. The firm texture and fresh green taste stands for everything I love about spring!

Usually I peel the beans out of the shells to achieve a finer taste but for my pesto I skipped this part. The beans were so young, the skin so tender and soft that I could keep them in their shell which also has a nutritional value.

This time, I made a pesto out of my fava beans, cooked only 5 minutes and mixed with garlic, freshly squeezed lemon juice, olive oil and fresh aromatic mint. You could mix it with pasta and some grated Pecorino but I spread it on a sandwich. I covered my juicy focaccia bun with a thick layer which I sprinkled with even more chopped mint leaves.

Fava Bean Pesto with Mint

Fava Bean Pesto and Mint Sandwich

For 4 sandwiches you need

focaccia or soft buns 4 (you could also use thick slices of ciabatta bread)
fava / broad beans, peeled out of the pods, in their shells, 900g / 2 pounds for around 260g / 9 ounces of peeled beans
garlic, quartered, 1 clove
water 100ml / 3.5 ounces
freshly squeezed lemon juice 3 teaspoons
olive oil 1 tablespoon plus more for frying
fresh mint, chopped, 1/2 – 1 teaspoon
salt and black pepper

In a sauce pan, fry the garlic in a little oil on medium heat for 1 minute and mix in the beans. Add the water, season with salt and pepper, close with a lid and simmer for 5 minutes.  With a slotted ladle (you will need some of the liquid), take the beans and garlic out of the pan and purée in a blender (or with a stick mixer) together with 1 tablespoon of the liquid from the beans, the lemon juice ,1 tablespoon of olive oil and 1/2 teaspoon of mint. Season with salt, pepper and mint to taste and spread voluptuously on your sandwich.

Fava Bean Pesto with Mint

 

Fava Bean Pesto with Mint

 

Fava Bean Pesto with Mint