In his blog, San Francisco Chronicle food critic Michael Bauer observes that fava bean leaves could be a trend in the Bay Area. I have been buying them for a while, after hearing about them on KCRW’s Good Food, and most recently bought them at the County Line stand at the Berkeley Farmers Market. (Update, 4/13/17: the blog post by Michael Bauer disappeared, but there’s another Chronicle item about fava bean leaves by Jane Tunks, which might have inspired Bauer’s post, or vice versa).
Fava beans play an important role in soil fertility on some farms because they pull nitrogen out of the air and put it into the soil (they “fix nitrogen”). But if you leave them in the ground too long and let beans form on the plants (i.e., let their seeds form), then much of the nitrogen benefit will be erased as the plant uses the nitrogen to make its seeds (Or so I’ve been told. If I’m off target here, please let me know in the comments.). That makes the leaves an even more attractive crop, because they can be harvested when farmers tear out the fava plants, thus providing some food and also improving soil fertility.
Last Sunday I made a spring frittata that used fava leaves, asparagus, leeks and feta. All of the ingredients were from the farmers market except for the mint and thyme (plants in my back yard) and the salt. Here’s a rough recipe (if you are new to making frittatas, I recommend reading a carefully thought-out and tested recipe, like the one from Martha Rose Shulman at the New York Times).
Recipe: Spring Frittata with Asparagus, Fava Bean Leaves, Leek Mint, and Feta
- Cook diced leek in oil over medium-low heat for a few minutes, putting on a cover for the last minute or so to help soften the leeks.
- Add aspargus pieces, stir to combine, then cover and cook for a few minutes (it’s hard to guess a time here; the goal is to have the asparagus be perfectly cooked when the frittata is removed from the oven).
- Add washed and chopped fava leaves, salt and pepper to the skillet, stir, cover, and turn off heat. Let it steam for a few minutes.
- Remove cover and let the skillet contents cool slightly (so you don’t pre-cook the eggs when everything is combined).
- Lightly beat 5-6 eggs in a bowl. Add 1/2 cup of crumbled feta cheese. Add more salt and pepper if needed.
- Combine the eggs, cheese, and vegetables.
- Turn on the broiler on your oven (alternatively, you can turn over the frittata to cook the second side in the skillet).
- Place a skillet over medium heat. Add a generous amount of olive oil.
- Pour in the egg mixture.
- Cook until the bottom of the frittata is light golden brown or the top of the frittata is set.
- Place the frittata under the broiler until the top is light golden (the skillet handle might become very hot, so be sure to use a pot-holder or towel when removing it from the oven).
For some cool photos of ladybugs munching on aphids on a fava bean plant, check out this Flickr set by Anauxite.