Pasta with Fava Beans and Speck

This past weekend, I had my 90 year-old neighbor Beppi and his family over for dinner.  Cooking for Beppi is always a challenge, since he was the owner of the former San Marco Restaurant, one of New York City’s only 3-star Italian restaurants (bestowed by Craig Claiborne of the New York Times).  His cuisine was refined and elegant, reminiscent of the Veneto region of Italy, where he was born and raised.

I decided to make my own version of a Southern Italian dish, with a bit of a northern Italian flare.  Since my mother was visiting, I decided to make one of her childhood dishes–pasta with fava beans. In my mother’s region (Calabria), this dish was typically made with pig skin, dried fava beans and water–not much else.  The finished dish was poured over dried bread, like a thick porridge.

Tonight, I’m using speck, a german style cured pork, very similar to prosciutto, but a bit drier and with its own distinctive flavor.

In addition, I’ve added butter, sage and chicken broth.  This combination adds an earthy richness to many pasta dishes and soups.  The finished dish is heavily dusted with grated parmigiano.

The dish can either be made soupy or tighter, without so much liquid.  Since our weather took a turn for the cooler this past weekend, I made it on the soupy side.

I can tell when Beppi likes a dish and when he doesn’t (although he’s gracious to a fault, either way).  This dish met with his approval and some guests opted for seconds–which any cook appreciates.  It even met with my mother’s approval, despite her thinly veiled skepticism while I prepared the dish (“we never used grated cheese or butter with beans . . . we never cooked much with sage . . . “)

Enjoy this dish while fava beans are in season–the fresher the beans, the brighter the flavor.

Pasta with Fava Beans and Speck

serves 6

1 lb orrechiette

2 lbs fresh fava beans, shucked, blanched and peeled

1/4 lb speck (or prosciutto), thinly sliced, cut crosswise into 1/2″ ribbons

2 medium shallots, chopped finely

12 sage leaves torn in half

1 stick butter

1 c chicken broth

2 tbls freshly chopped parsley

1 tbl freshly chopped chives

grated parmigiano for sprinkling

salt and black pepper to taste

To begin, clean and peel the fava beans:  each fava bean pod must be split by hand (not with a knife or you’ll bruise the beans inside) and the beans inside removed (scrape them out with your fingers–they pry out easily enough).

Then blanch the shucked beans in boiling water for about a minute.  Then shock in cold water for a few seconds, so the beans are cool enough to handle.  Next, take each bean and pinch a slit on one side.  Note:  there is already an apparent “opening” in the bean from which it appears the bean is beginning to burst.  Although it seems counterintuitive–that is NOT the place to try to pinch and extract the bean. It’s easier to pinch the opposite end of the bean, then the bright green bean will slip right out.

After peeling all the beans, proceed with the recipe below.

Boil water for pasta, add a couple of tablespoons of salt, then cook pasta.

While the pasta boils, in a large skillet, combine the shallots, speck, butter and sage.  Bring to a simmer on low heat to soften shallots and render speck.

After about 4 minutes, add chicken broth and cleaned, peeled fave.  Simmer, uncovered until pasta is cooked.

Add chives, parsley and pasta.  Stir and add another cup (or more) of salty pasta cooking water.

Serve in heated bowls with immediately.

Top with plenty of grated parmigiano.

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