If trying to eat seasonal food throughout the winter has left you with a mad case of Seasonal Affective Disorder and your eye twitches every time you hear the word “apple,” this Springtime salad might be just the antidote that you and your facial tic have been looking for. This vibrant entree combines three harbingers of Spring–fresh fava beans, asparagus and baby artichokes–into a balanced and satisfying meal. Each of the three green ingredients is cooked in a different way, so the warm salad has a variety of textures and flavors; it’s garlicky, minty, crunchy, bright, sweet, and creamy, all at the same time. It might seem like a lot of work to prep each of the ingredients, but it goes quite quickly. When you are done, you have an entire meal put together and you’ve mastered some seemingly daunting vegetables. Good for you.
While I love eating artichokes in restaurants, I’d actually never prepared them at home because I wasn’t entirely sure, even after culinary school, which parts were the edible parts. But it turns out they are pretty easy to work with, and baby artichokes are actually less work than their parents to trim because there is no ominous “choke” to remove. You just peel off the outer leaves in a he-loves-me, he-loves-me-not fashion and cut off the top and the woody stem. You can find photos showing each step of the process online here.
Cooking fresh fava beans is also ridiculously simple, but requires two steps. First open the pods using any means necessary and pop out the beans, much like you would for edamame. Then after boiling the beans for a couple of minutes, the thin skin around them will be loosened, and you’ll be able to slip it off with your fingers. Think chickpeas. In addition to the protein and fiber that all legumes have, favas are rich in folate, copper, manganese, potassium and other trace minerals. Changing up your diet and incorporating new plants into it is the best way to make sure you are getting all the nutrients your body needs.
If you notice a significant upgrade in the quality of photos today, you can thank my friend and professional photographer Tom Blakely. He stopped by for lunch the other day and we made a little trade: food for photos. Not a bad deal, eh?
Warm Spring Green Salad over Polenta
For the Salad:
1 pound fresh fava beans, in their pods
8 baby artichokes
1 bunch of asparagus, woody ends trimmed off
2 garlic cloves, minced
pinch of red pepper flakes
3/4 teaspoon of salt
juice from 1/2 a lemon
2 scallions, thinly sliced with white parts separated from green parts
6 mint leaves, chopped or torn
For the Polenta:
2 cups of water
1/2 teaspoon of salt
1/2 cup of coarse-grind cornmeal, sometimes labeled “polenta” or “grits”
1 pat of butter
1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
2. Bring a medium sized pot of salted water up to a boil. In the meantime, take the fava bean pods and remove the beans inside, using your fingers. Discard the pods. Add the beans to the boiling water. Remove after 3 minutes, leaving the water boiling on the stove. Run the beans under cold water to cool down and then remove their skins by squeezing on one end of the bean. Set the beans aside.
3. Place the trimmed asparagus in an even layer on a sheet tray. Drizzle it with olive oil and salt and place in the oven for 20 minutes. The asparagus should still be green with some brown crust and it will be tender, not hard or mushy. Let the asparagus cool for a minute, then slice it into roughly 2-inch pieces.
4. While the asparagus is roasting, you can trim and steam the artichokes. Remove enough water from the boiling pot of water to set a steamer basket inside. (If you don’t have a steamer basket, you can use a strainer or pour out the water until only a half-inch remains and set the artichokes directly in that.) Peel off the green leaves of the baby artichokes until a more tender yellow leaf emerges. Then trim off the stem and cut off the top 1/3 of the artichokes. Cut these pieces in half, vertically. Place the artichokes in the steamer basket, generously salt them and cover for 15 minutes. You’ll know the artichoke hearts are done when they are fork-tender.
5. Once the asparagus, favas and artichokes are all ready, start the polenta. Bring 2 cups of water up to a boil in a medium pot and slowly whisk in the cornmeal and salt. Whisk constantly for about 30 seconds and then every minute or so for about 5 minutes. The polenta will have a thick oatmeal consistency. Add the pat of butter and stir it in. The polenta can sit with the heat turned off while you finish the warm vegetables.
6. Finally, in a large skillet, heat up the olive oil and saute the garlic, white parts of the scallions and red pepper flake for 30 seconds. Then add the cooked artichokes, favas and asparagus, salt and saute for about a minute to let the flavors combine. Immediately before removing from the heat, add the lemon juice, sliced green parts of the scallion, and the mint.
7. To plate, ladle the polenta into a bowl or plate, then top with the green sauteed vegetables. Garnish with more mint or scallions if desired.