Category Archives: Hugh Acheson

i8tonite: A Spring Fava Bean Salad

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The first time I had ever heard of fava beans was by Anthony Hopkins playing Hannibal Lecter in “Silence of the Lambs” (1991). Lecter, as serial killers go, was immensely smart and sophisticated. (To Clarice Starling: “A census taker once tried to test me. I ate his liver with some fava beans and a nice Chianti”.) I was 25 years old when the movie came out. By this time, working in New York City restaurants, I had already had Chianti, an Italian wine varietal, many times over. I hate liver…especially after this movie but fava beans. Wow! They sounded cultured and classy especially spoken by Mr. Hopkins though it was supposed to be in that cinematic moment, a flash of Lecter’s murderous pedigree, cannibalism and insanity.

Simply put, in that singular utterance, fava beans, became one of the most sought after edibles; although they are not easy to get around to eating. Before getting to the cooking of the bean itself, there are two coatings, a pod and then a shell around the bean which needs to be removed. Honestly, fava beans are a lot of work; shelling and then popping them out of the second casing? No, thanks.  Having once tried to cook them, I decided that I’m going to only eat them in a restaurant or when I can find them frozen. Needless to say, on the West Coast, they are not easily found in restaurants, the farmer’s markets or the frozen food section. Therefore, I don’t eat them often unless on the East Coast or in Europe.

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However, on one of my many shopping excursions, I recently discovered that Melissa’s , the Southern California produce company, has done the hard part. They are packing fava beans that have been cleaned, peeled and steamed the beans in one easy to use package.  Melissa’s also produces ready-to-eat beets, carrots and other

That raises the question: What do fava beans taste like? Once cooked they have a slightly buttery and earthy flavor to them. By earthy, meaning like a vegetable, slightly bitter but with a palatable smoothness not unlike a giant white bean. You can puree favas into a dip much like hummus, using tahini, garlic, and lemon. Or, add the puree to a homemade aioli and it gives the spread a deeper flavor. In Hugh Acheson’s “The Broad Fork” (Clarkson Potter), he takes the fava bean mixing it with mint, arugula, salami and parmesan. Steeped in a profile of Mediterranean flavors, the fava beans combined with the other ingredients, crafts a sublime salad full of spring textures and saltiness. If you can find Melissa’s Fava Beans in the local vegetable section of your grocery, I highly recommend making this salad for an al fresco meal or BBQ….just don’t forget the Chianti.

Fava Bean Salad

Fava Bean Salad with Mint, Garlic, Arugula and Salami

Sea Salt

1 Pound of fava beans in their pods (Or buy Melissa’s)

I head of fresh spring garlic, broken into cloves and peeled

1 pound of arugula

½ cup of mint, leaves shredded by hand.

2 tablespoons of olive oil

1 teaspoon grated lemon zest

1 teaspoon freshly sqeezed lemon juice.

¼ pound of salami, chopped and diced

½ cup shaved Parmigiano- Reggiano

  1. Create an ice water bath. (Ice cubes, water in a bowl.) On the stove, get a large pot of water to boiling and seasoned well with salt.
  2. Remove the fava beans from their large pods. Add the fava beans to the boiling water and blanch for 1 minute. Drain the favas and put them into the ice water bath. Discard the outer skins. (Or Melissa’s Fava Beans).
  3. In a small saucepan, cover the garlic cloves with water and bring it to a boil. Season the water with ½ teaspoon of salt, turn and heat down and simmer for about 10 minutes. (GREAT TIP: This process removes the heat of the garlic, leaving the clove gently sweet.)
  4. To serve the salad, in a large bowl add olive oil, lemon zest and lemon. Mix well. Add the favas, garlic, arugula and mint. Season with salt and arrange on a plate. Sprinkle with chopped and diced salami and shaved Parmigiano- Reggiano

i8tonite: Spring Arugula Pesto with Spaghetti and Crisped Prosciutto (adapted from Hugh Acheson’s “The Broad Fork”)

I wish life were as easy as a recipe. Someone writes out the ingredients, measurements and methodology for creating the dish and I just follow it. I don’t think. My mind shuts off. I chop this, stir that and in the end, I have something delicious like a happy life.

I’ve never been a follower and I don’t mean that in a complimentary way. There is something infinitely courageous about the common worker. The individual who knows that they want security, a home and safe place. None of which I knew about when I ventured out in the world. There is no recipe for living.

That’s what I love about cooking. It makes me follow simple directions. I stop thinking and follow a direct path. I don’t drink like I used to when cooking. I found that I burned things. Besides, drinking and cooking, in my humble opinion, don’t really mix. At the table, when it’s all plated and everyone is seated, I feel that the libations are great for social lubricating; yet when cooking, I need my unbridled consciousness. I need to see the freshness. Taste the seasons. Hear the sizzling. Smell the aroma. Feel the food as it snaps. It is a sensuous experience. For me, cooking is in the moment, not on the periphery.

It’s why I seek out simple dishes to recreate with few but quality ingredients located at my markets. For just an unfettered moment, I can take my favorite lettuce, arugula, and turn it into a lusty, verdant sauce. Its peppery essence is intoxicating when pureed with olive oil, biting garlic and salty Reggiano.  Dressed over room-temperature or leftover chilled pasta, a little more grated cheese and toasted pine nuts. It’s a perfect for meal for an outdoor supper when the heat of the day has been turned down and the fervent emotions ready to be shut off.

I can chew my noodles with abandon, sip rosé and wish that life were as easy as a recipe (especially Acheson’s Arugula Pesto).

Arugula Pesto, adapted from Hugh Acheson’s “The Broad Fork”. (June 2015 Cookbook)

Spaghetti with Arugula, Pesto, Crisped Prosciutto and Parmigiano-Reggiano. Serve 4.

Sea salt

¼ cup of pine nuts (or walnuts…I did say adapted)

4 cups arugula (preferably from the farmers market or CSA. It has a lot more pepper in the bite. However if you can only get stuff in plastic…nothing wrong with it. It’s good to eat your vegetables from any source.)

2 garlic cloves

1 cup finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano

Couple turns of fresh cracked pepper

3 ice cubes

¾ cup of olive oil

1 teaspoon grated lemon zest

1 pound spaghetti

2 pieces of prosciutto (or salami. Acheson’s recipes calls for the salami. I didn’t have any and I wasn’t about to go out to market for the umpteenth time, so I used the ham. Shoot me.)

  1. In a large stockpot bring 4 quarts of water to a boil. Salt the water enough so you can taste it.
  2. Toast nuts in a skillet until lightly browned. Take two-thirds (eyeball it) for the pesto, the rest for garnishing. Place on the side for cooling.
  3. In a food processor or blender, combine the arugula, the two-thirds pine nuts, garlic, grated cheese, 1 teaspoon of salt, the pepper and the ice cubes. Puree on high for 30 seconds. Using the chute, with the motor running and the olive oil in a slow drizzle. Scrape everything down the sides until all the leaves are in the pesto, creating a smooth sauce. Stir in the lemon zest and put aside.
  4. Add the spaghetti to the boiling water, stir immediately and then cook to al dente. (If you made your own pasta…Good for you. Use that.) Drain into a colander and chill down with cold water. Turn into a large bowl. Drizzle with olive oil, salt and pepper. Stir. Add the pesto until coating all the pasta evenly.
  5. While the pasta cooks, add a little olive oil to a pan and crisp up the prosciutto, like bacon. Drain on a paper towel.
  6. Shave some of the cheese, chopped arugula, prosciutto and pine nuts to the top and serve-up family-style. (Or divide into 4 bowls.) (Lately, I’m really into family-style serving and letting people help themselves.)

Arugla Pesto