did you know there's a disease called favism? it's quite unrelated to fauvism, and it actually can be sorta serious, but sometimes its symptoms are as mild as itchy hands after touching favas.
if i'd known about it, i might have wished for favism as a child, because it might have been the only excuse palpable enough to get me out of one of my most dreaded chores: popping and peeling piles of raw fava beans. favas, or baghali, are a favorite ingredient in the persian kitchen, and some of our most classic (and delicious) springtime dishes are made with these epic pains-in-the-butt. now you know why iranians have big families--so they can force their kids to peel the abundant raw favas necessary for their canonical recipes.
i love baghali polo, which is fava bean and dill rice, traditionally made on seezdeh-bedar, the thirteeth day of the new year, which usually works out to be april first or second. i love it most when some of the favas favas fry in a bit of oil and become embedded in the tahdig, the crisp web of rice that forms at the bottom and edges of the pot. somehow, they caramelize without burning, and they turn soft and creamy on the inside. it's exquisite.
but, baghali polo, and baghala ghatogh, a fava bean stew with eggs and dill, like pretty much every other persian dish, are incredibly labor intensive and time-consuming to prepare, so i rarely make them. instead, i find myself using favas like i learned to at chez panisse, in pastas, salads, or other vegetable dishes, barely cooked or even raw, more often an accent than the focus of the dish. in french and california cooking, the beans are popped from their soft, accomodating sleeping bags and then plunged into boiling water before being shocked in a bowl of ice. talk about a rude awakening. then, they're popped out of their skins and either served as-is, or gently heated and then taken where they're needed to go.
it must be the brutal grasp of nostalgia that keeps me from truly loving favas served in this way. i much prefer them cooked long and slow, until they are soft and sweet, drowned with herbs and olive oil. something inexplicable happens to them (and all vegetables, i think) when they're tended to with heat, time and a gentle hand. but then my californian tendencies get the best of me and i always end up balancing the depth and sweetness with some bright acidity, good salt, and a handful of fresh herbs.
balancing labor and remembrance, ancestry and geography, new and old is at the heart of the way i cook. with those things in mind, i've been making this bastardized version of baghala ghatogh with all of the sweet favas popping up at the market: sweet, stewed favas with green garlic and dill smeared generously on toast and topped with a poached egg, good oil and a showering of garden herbs.
Fava Bean and Dill Crostino with a Poached Egg
- Four cups shelled and peeled fava beans, or roughly five pounds of pods
- One big bunch of dill, or two little bunches, chopped finely
- Two white spring onions
- One bunch green garlic
- Good olive oil
- Parsley, and cilantro if you like, chopped
- Four thick slices country bread
- Four farm eggs
- A little white vinegar
Pop and peel the favas. You can either peel them raw or dip them into boiling water for a few seconds until their skins loosen and then chill them in ice water before peeling.
Clean and thinly slice the spring onions and green garlic, then stew with olive oil and a bit of water in a saute pan until tender. Add a little salt. It's ok if they start to color a little bit, but don't let them get too brown.
When all of that is soft, add the favas and another splash of water. A good guzzle of olive oil and three quarters of the chopped dill. Cook over medium-low heat, stirring often enough to prevent it from burning. Use the back of a wooden spoon to smash the beans as they soften and encourage it all to turn into a paste. Taste and adjust the salt. Add more olive oil if it starts to look dry and pasty.
Toast the bread and, if you have one, swipe with a clove of garlic. Smear with generous amounts of fava paste and sprinkle, if you have it, with some light, flaky salt such as Maldon. Give the whole thing a squeeze of lemon, too.
Bring a small saucepot with at least two inches of water in it to a boil, then turn down to a hard simmer. Add a few drops of vinegar. Crack the eggs into coffee cups and poach. Some people like to create a little whirlpool in the pot with a spoon before laying in the eggs, but it's not required. I like to poach in pretty hot water, until the whites are just set.
Remove the eggs from the water and dry the bottoms on a clean kitchen towel, then place on the toast. Drizzle with a bright olive oil and shower with remaining dill, parsley and cilantro. Serve immediately.