It’s a definite sign of Spring when the first baccelli start making an appearance at market stalls around Florence. Baccelli are otherwise known as fave, or fava beans, and tend to be slightly smaller than normal broad beans. Traditionally presented at the table as they are – long, green, shiny pods which belie the little treasures tucked away inside – the beans are shelled and eaten raw with a nice, salty pecorino cheese or silky, melt in the mouth prosciutto to contrast with the fresh, slightly bitter bite of the raw beans.
Naturally, I couldn’t help but bring a bagful of the first baccelli I could get my hands on when I was invited over for lunch last weekend by the talented Giulia of Juls’ Kitchen. The gloriously sunny spring day in the countryside near Siena seemed the perfect setting for a fresh strawberry pavlova and some fresh fava bean crostini, which I prepared à la Jamie Oliver (i.e. smashing stuff up with a pestle and mortar). I wanted to keep the traditional and fantastic combination of baccelli and pecorino and keep the rest very simple.
Juls very kindly gave me full permission to rummage through her props cupboard, where I found this beautiful olive wood chopping board – it was made by her father about 20 years ago while trimming his olive trees. Juls’ Kitchen is indeed as idyllic as any Tuscan postcard, surrounded by olive trees and views of the neighbouring green valley. It seemed the most fitting way to present these delectable crostini.
Fava bean crostini
Serves four people:
- 1 kg of fava beans in their pods
- Juice of one lemon
- Some glugs of very good extra virgin olive oil
- Handful of pecorino cheese, grated
- A loaf of ciabatta bread, sliced
- 1 clove of garlic
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Fresh herbs that you have on hand – mint, basil or tarragon are nice
Start off by shelling the pods and collecting the beans in a bowl. Put aside some of the beans to use as garnish. In a mortar and pestle, smash up the rest of the fava beans with a few spoonfuls of extra virgin olive oil and the lemon juice. Add the grated pecorino cheese and salt and pepper to taste.
Meanwhile grill the slices of ciabatta bread and when they are done, still hot, rub one side of the bread once with the clove of garlic. If you’re a garlic lover, you can rub more but try not to go overboard with the raw garlic as it tends to overpower! Top each slice with a spoonful or two of the fava bean paste and decorate with some of the whole fava beans that you put aside at the beginning, and a few leaves of your favourite fresh herbs. Tastes like Spring.