A peculiar thing

Fava beans. Broad beans if you're a Brit. Before I ever tried them I had heard that they were quite the thing. I read a lot of literature that likened them to the first, faintest whiff of early summer, that enthused about their sweet tenderness as if they were a type of vegetable crack. I was completely seduced by the idea of long, leisurely hours spent double-shelling them on a sun-drenched Italian terrace with my nearest and dearest, glasses of crisp white wine and hunks of pecorino at hand.

I couldn't wait to try them. I had already fallen for them, in theory! But, in reality, it was not destined to be love at first sight. Sweet they were not, only unpleasantly musty. They had a solid starchiness that positioned them somewhere between a fresh and dried bean. I guess they weren't completely awful, but they certainly weren't sweeping me off my feet.

Still, I was pretty invested in liking them so I arranged a second date, then a third. I expanded my test group to include the large, twisted pods from Fairway, the tiny ones fresh from the Campus Community Garden that only needed a single-shelling, and everything in between. Yet, despite my best efforts, I remained fairly ambivalent towards them.

I thought that's what we were. Acquaintances, maybe friends, purely platonic either way. Then, last Spring, I noticed a very peculiar thing. First of all, throughout the year I'd been collecting fava bean recipes. I had a whole pile of them. When I saw some in the store I bought them. I brought them home and cooked them. I ate them, to a ho-hum reception, and then, and this is the thing, I did it again. Whenever I had the chance I would do it again - buy, cook and eat 'em. What was going on?

For a vegetable I was supposedly neutral about we were spending a lot of time together. There was the ragout thrown over pasta, a green-tinged panzanella. I ate them raw with cheese and radishes, cooked with bacon and dill.

This year it happened again. I started ear-and-bookmarking broad bean recipes. My compulsion grew stronger than the season and I bought a bag of frozen ones at Fairway. I made quinoa, radish and avocado salad, hot yogurt soup, and marinated mushrooms, all with the help of those favas. Before long I had bought another bag, now long gone and which would have been replaced were I not moving and trying to clear out the freezer.

Where do we stand now, me and the favas? When it's just the two of us, we can't seem to get it together. But throw in a bit of that, and a snatch of this, and it's alright. Somehow a whole mess of things will coalesce into a great, delicious whole. I don't know if I like fava beans but I know I like this:

Marinated Mushrooms with Walnut and Tahini Yogurt
From Plenty

I wouldn't worry too much about acquiring fresh dill and oregano for the final garnish. If you have some great, if not use whatever herbs you have at hand - parsley, cilantro, it'll work just fine.

1/3 cup olive oil
1 tbsp white wine vinegar
1 tbsp maple syrup
juice of 2 medium lemons (divided use)
salt and black pepper
3 cups sliced button mushrooms
2 cups beech (shimeji) mushrooms, large base removed
1/2 cup Greek yogurt
2 1/2 tbsp tahini
1 small garlic clove, crushed
3 cups shelled fava beans (frozen or fresh)
2/3 cup walnuts, toasted and coarsely chopped
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1 tbsp chopped dill
1 tbsp chopped oregano

Whisk together the olive oil, vinegar, maple syrup, half the lemon juice, about 1/2 tsp salt and some black pepper. Pour this over the mixed mushrooms in a large bowl and toss well, making sure all the mushrooms are coated. Leave to marinate for 1 hour.

Meanwhile, in a small bowl mix together the yogurt, tahini, garlic, remaining lemon juice and 1/2 tsp salt. Use a fork or small whisk to whip everything together to a light paste. (You can refrigerate this sauce for up to one day).

Next, pour plenty of boiling water over the fava beans in a bowl and leave for a minute, then drain well and leave to cool down. Squeeze each bean gently to remove the skin and discard it (if your beans are small or you don't mind the skin you can skip this step).

Add the beans, walnuts, and cumin to the marinated mushrooms and stir well to mix. Taste and adjust the seasoning. Serve the mushrooms in small bowls or plates, each portion topped with a dollop of thick tahini sauce and sprinkled with herbs.

Serves 4



Can we talk? It won't take long. And it just might change your life. Maybe!

The month of May motored by, June joined the fray and, what do you know, it's already almost over! Are you busy? I sure am - leaving my job, planning a trip to Germany, Poland, Ukraine and Switzerland, writing letters like there ain't a tomorrow, and, as if that weren't enough, throwing moving into the mix.

In such helter-skelter times I'm happy to turn to the egg. The ever-dependable, infinitely-variable egg. Whether it be the blue or brown spotted or pale green pride of a chicken, the freckled find of a quail, or, with good fortune like mine, a dozen duck eggs bulging out of their carton. The latter have nearly impenetrably strong shells and yolks so luminous and large, so thick and viscous, I am nothing but in awe. They are some eggs.

And how do I eat all these eggs? Let me count the ways! Sizzled in olive oil to a crisp, brown-laced edge. So softly scrambled as to be barely set. Poached in a gauze of white. Hard-boiled, straight-up with a shake of salt. "Poochie" in a little egg cup with a spoon and strips of buttered toast. My family tends to invent words and "poochie" is our term for soft-boiled. It's a style I've been rather enamoured with lately.

Now, there are many, many, many schools of thought regarding the proper technique for the perfect hard or soft-boiled egg. Should you add the eggs to cold water then bring it to a boil or add the eggs to already boiling water? Should you simmer them for 5 or 6 or 7 or 8 minutes or should you take them off the heat immediately, clamp on a lid and let them sit for 10 or 11 or 11-and-a-half or 12 minutes? How do you choose your method? And, in all that crush of information, how do you remember it?

Well, one night at work there was a special - salmon, I think - served with a soft-boiled egg. The most gorgeous soft-boiled egg I'd ever had the pleasure of partaking in - its yolk a gush of gold wrapped in fragile, creamily-set white. I asked my co-worker how he did it and all he said was 5:10. What? Then it came back to me - last summer, borrowing the Momofuku cookbook from the library, copying out all the recipes to do with egg-cookery, forgetting about them.

I went home, found the recipe, put on some water, plopped in an egg and soon enough had my own glorious soft-boiled specimen. I made another the next morning for breakfast. I've been making them this way ever since. Perfect and perfectly easy soft-boiled eggs! Put them on top of anything - be it salad, vegetable or grain - and you'll never be hungry again. That's the life-changing part.

Perfect Soft-Boiled Eggs (aka 5:10 Eggs)
From Momofuku

Large eggs, as many as you like

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Gently lower the eggs, in their shells, into the boiling water with a slotted spoon or spider. (Some will crack, though they should still be usable even if they're not beautiful). Set a kitchen timer for 5 minutes and 10 seconds from the moment the eggs go into the water, and prepare an ice water bath for the eggs in a large, deep mixing bowl.

When the timer rings, use the spoon or spider to transfer the eggs to the ice water. Peel the eggs when they are cool enough to handle, cracking them open on a cutting board and then peeling them underwater, in the bowl. (The little bit of water that sneaks in between the shell and the white helps with the peeling). Reserve the eggs in the fridge until ready to use, or for up to 8 hours. Warm them for a minute under hot running tap water before serving.

Makes as many as you decide to make!