Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Pasta with fava beans & mint



I can't look at a fresh fava bean without thinking of an old Japanese man, a round piece of cheese, and a long ago flight from JFK to O'Hare.

Stick with me here. It'll all make sense in a minute.

See, I was sitting in my usual aisle seat in a three-across setup. The center seat was unoccupied and at the window was the elderly man that I just mentioned. One of the items on the meal tray (remember those?) was a little round cheese snack wrapped in red wax. You know the type, I'm sure.

Evidently, my traveling companion did not. Through the corner of my eye I watched as the man picked up the cheese. He ran his fingers over the shiny red wax, tapped at it a couple of times and then quickly popped the whole thing into his mouth and began to chew.

And chew.

And chew.

I didn't have the heart to risk having the old man see me unwrap the cheese and eat it the proper way. Why embarrass the guy? And so when the flight attendant came to collect our emptied trays my wax-encased cheese snack was still on it, untouched.

Which is to say that fresh fava beans must first be unwrapped before you make this pretty swell pasta dish with them.

Hey, I'm just trying to help.



This is around two pounds of fresh favas.



When you open the pod this is what you'll find. Just pop all the beans out and toss the pods.



Rinse the beans in cold water.



Blanch them in well-salted water for a minute. Make sure not to toss the water because you are planning to cook the pasta in it. You are planning on doing that, right?



Using a slotted spoon remove the beans from the boiling water and toss them into an ice bath. This will prevent the favas from becoming overcooked and mushy, which can happen pretty quickly.



What you need to do now is pop the edible bean out from inside the shell, like so.



Just in case you haven't seen it before, this is what we're dealing with. The bright green bean on the left is the edible fava; on the right is a bean that's still in its outer shell.



What I wound up with is around a cup's worth of cooked favas.



In a large pan saute one large shallot, four or five garlic cloves and some hot pepper in olive oil until softened but not browned.



Add the beans, a dozen or so chopped mint leaves and the zest of one small lemon. Stir and saute for a minute.



Then just stir in your pasta (a half pound here), some pasta water to moisten things (a half cup or so), and maybe 3/4 cup of grated Parmigiano-Reggiano.

And that is that.

Ready to serve. And no unnecessary chewing.

Saturday, June 16, 2018

The godfather



When you are thirteen and wake before dawn to the sound of a parent dying, odds are short that things are gonna suck pretty bad for a while.

And they did.

But I was luckier than most. I didn't grow up in a family, I grew up in a clan.

Big difference.

Imagine this: Six families, all blood related through siblings, living upstairs, downstairs, and next door to each other in side-by-side apartment houses, three apartments per. My twelve cousins and I didn't have only two parents apiece; aunts and uncles counted too, because they watched over all of us just like we were their own.

I know. Hard to imagine. Different times.

The head of our clan was Uncle Joe. That's him at his house on Berriman Street in Brooklyn. When he bought his own home, late in life actually, he made sure that it had four things: close proximity to the rest of us (only a block and a half away from his brothers' and sisters' families); ample yard space for his dump truck and assorted building materials (he was a general contractor); a generous outdoor area where the whole family could gather for barbecues and parties; and last, but by no means least, a garden.

Uncle Joe had no children of his own, but he was godfather to the majority of his nieces and nephews, me included. The man wasn't merely loved by those of us who knew him. He was adored, idolized even.

My godfather didn't live a lot longer than my father, but I was fortunate to have him around for what the shrinks might call a young man's formative years. He taught me how to use hand tools and mix concrete, how to level a piece of wood before driving a nail into it, how to lay brick, and the proper way to let out a clutch.

More important, and strictly by observing the man, I learned how to be fair and kind to people while at the same time being firm in what I believe.

At least I hope that I did.

It would break my heart to think that I let him down.

Happy Father's Day everybody!

 
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