Wednesday, May 6, 2009

The Unexpected Life: Asparagus and Fava Bean Risotto

For a while there, in my early twenties, I was scared of doing anything new. When faced with something unfamiliar, I went into a full-blown panic. If I couldn't make a step-by-step map of what to expect, I wanted nothing to do with it. If I wasn't absolutely certain I would succeed at something, I wouldn't even try it. I spent the entire four years of college with my nose inserted securely in my safe, familiar books -- living within the pages while my own life went steadily by, ignored.

My fears carried over into food, as well. A vegetarian since childhood, I
liked that my options were limited to one small section of the menu. If only all of life's options could be restricted to a small section of a menu, I would have been very relieved, indeed.

While everyone around me was starting out on their lives, certain of their paths, their destinies, their goals, I stood by and watched. And I day dreamed, far-reaching fantasies of a life of adventure and travel and passion, while I sat. And waited.

And then one day, everything changed. And I'm going to tell you, dear readers, that life-altering moments can come at the most unexpected times. Like, in my case, my life was changed forever at a Naked Porn Star Roller Skating Party. Yes, you read that right. Naked. Porn Star. Roller Skating. As a reality TV producer, I've been to some unusual events, and on this particular night, I found myself in a pair of roller skates, hugging the wall while a blur of unnaturally-inflated breasts on wheels whizzed by me.

Now, I don't know how to roller skate. It's just something I never learned to do. So obviously, I had no intention of strapping on skates and joining the top-heavy blonds in the rink. I mean, for one thing, it just seemed dangerous. One wrong move by me and dozens of innocent implants could be harmed. But more than that, I just wasn't the type of girl to jump carefree into something unfamiliar. That's what I told myself, anyway. So, I staked out my spot as the quiet observer, and planned to soak up the wackiness of the night from the safe (and fully-clothed) sidelines.

But then a voice came over my internal intercom system. Sounding a bit like a bitchier James Earl Jones, it said to me, "What are you doing, you idiot? Get your scared little ass out there and skate." It suddenly occurred to me that this was one of the most delightfully ludicrous things that might ever happen to me, and instead of being a part of it, I was just sitting on the sidelines, waiting for an interesting life to come and find me.

So, driven by something I still can't identify, I strapped on some skates, took timidly to the floor, and prayed to god that my flailing, balance-seeking hands wouldn't find themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time. I made it around once, laughing, falling, (and, I should mention,
clothed), completely in the naked moment. And then I got a little better, a little faster, and soon I was a part of the silicone blur, contributing to the momentum. It was exhilarating, absurd, and a whole heck of a lot more fun than sitting on the sidelines.

And from that day forward, I stopped saying no to things that scared me. I no longer considered myself a timid observer; I was now The Kind of Girl Who Will Roller Skate with Adult Film Stars if Presented With the Opportunity. Instead of being stopped by fear, my James Earl Jones voice said, "What's the worst that could happen?" I started traveling. I said yes to invitations. I gave up my fear-based vegetarianism, ravenously tasting everything from the menu columns I had avoided most of my life. I began a whole new way of living, and along the way became hopelessly addicted to new experiences.

Which is how I came to have two pounds of unfamiliar alien-looking giant green pods in my refrigerator.

Those, right there, flanking the ordinary asparagus, are the uncharted fava beans. Most of us only know of these legumes as hissed by Hannibal Lecter and paired with a nice Chianti. But they're suddenly everywhere these days, popping up on menus, and mounded up on tables at famers' markets, defying their cannibal association by becoming a culinary darling. I'd never eaten them, that I recalled, and had no idea how to cook them. But since I'm addicted to anything new, I blindly bagged a couple pounds of the guys and brought them home with me, unsure of what I would do with them. But I wasn't afraid. Not one bit. After all, that's what life (and Google) is all about.

Here is what I learned: When you pop off the top of the pod, you "unzip" the sides, revealing what appears to be large Lima-like beans inside.

But don't let appearances fool you. You've got more layers to take off before you get to the naked bean.

These are the little shells, the beans' jackets, and after you boil them for a minute, the shells become loose, and you can get to the bright green bean that's hiding inside.

These little hidden treasures are buttery, bright, and perfect for the asparagus risotto I'd been dying to make. And since you and I are no longer afraid of trying new things, we knew it would be easy to adapt a recipe to include our new little undressed friends, the fava beans.

So, I made some adjustments to the recipe, and the result was absolutely sublime. Creamy and comforting, rich and smooth, and tasting (and looking) like Spring itself. It was a perfect meal for May, and a perfect example of the great things that can happen when you try something new.

Not every new experience can be as noteworthy as Naked Porn Star Roller Skating. But everyday, I try new things, and it's adding up to a pretty interesting -- and delicious -- life.

(In case you prefer to feel prepared, I found this video for you here; Mario Batali, whose recipe I adapted, gives you some tips on making a great risotto.)

Asparagus and Fava Bean Risotto

Adapted from Mario Batali

Time: 45 minutes

1 pound asparagus, peeled, trimmed and cut into one-inch-long pieces; set aside tips

1 - 1 1/2 pounds fava beans, in pods
(about 1 cup of shelled beans)
4 to 6 cups chicken or vegetable stock
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

3 tablespoons butter
1/3 medium red onion, diced

1 1/2 cups Arborio rice

1/2 cup dry white wine (chardonnay or pinot grigio are great)
Salt to taste

1 scallion, green parts chopped

1 tablespoon chopped flat leaf parsley

1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese

To prepare fava beans: bring a medium pot of water to a boil. Meanwhile, shell the beans by pulling on the stem of the pod, and “unzip” them on both sides. Pop out the light green beans. Take the beans and drop them in boiling water for about 4 minutes. Prepare a bowl with ice and water. Remove the beans from the boiling water and plunge into ice water to cool. Peel off the beans' waxy outer covering. Drain and set aside.

Refill medium pot of water and bring to a boil. Add half the chopped asparagus stalks (not the tips) and cook until quite soft, at least 5 minutes. Rinse quickly under cold water. Put cooked asparagus in a blender or food processor and add just enough water or stock to allow machine to puree until smooth; set aside.

Put stock in a medium saucepan over low heat. Put oil and 1 tablespoon butter in a large, deep nonstick skillet over medium heat. When it is hot, add onion, stirring occasionally until it softens, 3 to 5 minutes.

Add rice and cook, stirring occasionally, until it is glossy, about 2 to 3 minutes. Add white wine, stir, and let liquid bubble away. Add a large pinch of salt. Add warmed stock, 1/2 cup or so at a time, stirring occasionally. Each time stock has just about evaporated, add more.

After about 15 minutes, add remaining asparagus pieces and tips, continuing to add stock when necessary. In 5 minutes, add shelled fava beans, and begin tasting rice. You want it to be tender but with a bit of crunch; it could take as long as 30 minutes total to reach this stage. When it does, stir in 1/2 cup asparagus puree and chopped scallions. Remove skillet from heat, add remaining butter and stir briskly. Add Parmesan and stir briskly, then taste and adjust seasoning. Risotto should be slightly soupy. Garnish with parsley and additional Parmesan if desired, and serve immediately.

Yield: 3 to 4 servings.


  1. those combination of flavors looks like they'd blend so well :)

  2. HEY -- i just bought a bunch of fava beans THIS MORNING at the market because I'd never made them before. I put them in an arugula salad with shaved pecorino and a lemon vinaigrette. Good stuff.

  3. You're the best Sara! So good to have you back.

    By the way, I'll pick up some roller skates on the way home. I'm not really sure i understand the naked roller skating concept. Move the couch out of the way and explain it to me.

  4. Now if only I had naked porn stars in White Bear Lake, MN to help alleviate my fears! this is one drop-dead gorgeous risotto! Wow! I've been in the mood for something like that. Still cannot get fava beans here - intended to grow them... does that count? Going on to your next recipe. If it has ricotta in it, it has to be good.

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  6. Love it! I actually grew up on my parents' fava beans - always a staple in the Italian garden! In risotto - I'm gonna have to make that! :)

  7. I think of myself as a pretty competent cook, but I've always been intimidated by favas, though I readily eat them when others do the heavy lifting! In the spirit of Naked Porn Star Roller Skating, though, I'm going to give this recipe a try. Thanks for sharing the courage!

  8. MammaLisa, you're so lucky! They're great in risotto... it's a texture thing.

    Paige - the beans take a little bit of time to undress, but it's a perfect activity for daydreaming; no thinking required.

    Claudia - If fava beans aren't possible, I think those blueberry muffins are the perfect consolation prize.

    Kate - That salad sounds amazing! If you weren't WAY over on the west side, I'd have invited myself over for lunch.

  9. cool, can't wait to try it. Hubby is vegetarian so it's perfect!

  10. Hi boys!!
    Asparagus and Fava Bean Risotto This dish I recommend it so much I'm eating, almost always much risotto but not this way with asparagus. I love this blog.

  11. First time using fava beans (from the farmers' market) and the last of my own asparagus. Excellent dish, very attractive. Fava beans are labor intensive but I am intrigued...