Seeing as this is a recipe that embodies spring, it might surprise you to know that the first time I saw this recipe was almost three years ago in the dead of winter.
I was in Tonsberg, Norway, with my boyfriend and we were browsing around in a popular bookstore. Naturally, most of the titles were in Norwegian, but there were many English language books as well. I'm not sure why, but I was surprised to find a huge shelf with American cookbooks - especially those by celebrity chefs. My eyes scanned the titles and passed over books by Mario Batali, Rachel Ray, and Emeril Lagasse. But the one book that really caught my eye was Jamie at Home: Cook Your Way to the Good Life, by Jamie Oliver. I really liked Jamie Oliver back then, and that was even before he started his Food Revolution and I liked him even more.
I reached up, slid the book off the shelf, and and turned back the tan hardcover to reveal colorful pages filled with beautiful recipes. The book was divided into larger chapters based on the seasons - which I loved - and since I was freezing my butt off in the cold and snow, of course I thumbed ahead to the recipes for spring and summer.
My mind danced around daydreaming of warmer weather when I could enjoy asparagus and fresh eggs, rhubarb, and strawberries all while basking in happy sunshine. But it was when I turned the page and saw a recipe called, "Incredible Smashed Peas and Fava Beans on Toast," that I was really intrigued. You see, I had never eaten a fava bean before (or actually ever seen one for that matter) and I am naturally curious about most things. But I had one problem - I was convinced that I hated peas.
Where this imaginary pea-hatred stemmed from, I have no idea, because as far as I can remember we never ate peas growing up. (Unlike those awful steamed brussels sprouts that I am sure I hated and had to force down by drowning them in milk.) When I finally did eat peas as an adult, I was prepared to leave them squarely on my hated-foods list, but my aversion to them disappeared into thin air after I popped one tiny, fresh, springtime pea into my mouth...
It was perfection.
It was dense and sweet, not soft but not too hard either, and I adored the way the small kernels just 'popped' in my mouth. I was in awe. (Not to mention, those little pea pods are just too cute. Seriously, who can resist those?)
Now on the other hand, it took me quite awhile longer to get around to trying fava beans. In fact, though I ended up buying Jamie at Home the summer after I first stumbled upon the cookbook, I only tried fresh fava beans for the first time this year. Fava beans were a whole different beast than peas, but I was as equally fascinated by them in the flesh as I was on the pages of Jamie's cookbook. Depending on how mature they are, fava bean pods can be pretty huge - up to 10 inches - but the best ones are smaller and younger. (Size does matter, but in this case smaller is better...)
The beans are protected inside the pod by a downy layer that perfectly conforms around each one, and the beans pop out of the pods relatively easily. As it turns out, normally fava beans are 'shelled' twice when cooked (see this link here), but for Jamie's recipe they are used raw. Since my fava beans were a bit mature and had some thicker skins, I did remove some of them before using them in the recipe.
Fava beans in the pod.
To make the pea and fava puree, all you need to do is give the ingredients a whirl in your food processor or blender - The fava beans and peas are combined with fresh mint, bright lemon juice, savory parmesan, and extra virgin olive oil for richness. Once you make the puree, all you need to do is assemble the toasts and they are ready to serve.
Boccocini, fresh whey-packed mozzarella.
Ciabatta rolls, straight from the farmers market.
Spread the bread with fava and pea puree, then top with fresh mozzarella.
Even though it was a long time ago that I first saw this recipe, I am so glad that I finally got around to making it. I really love simple, seasonal dishes like this one that showcase the flavors of really delicious veggies... but still combine those flavors with a little richness and indulgence. In this case, the fresh mozzarella pairs absolutely perfectly with the sweet puree and the mint ties it all together.
But I think the best thing about this recipe is that it is made for sharing. Perfect for Easter or a springtime brunch, these toasts would make a beautiful platter of crostini or a small plate of appetizers for lunch with friends.
One year ago: Cherry Rhubarb Chutney
You might also like: Leek Confit and Goat Cheese Crostini
Smashed Peas and Fava Beans with Fresh Mozzarella
Adapted From Jamie at Home: Cook Your Way to the Good Life, by Jamie Oliver
Both the peas and fava beans are used raw in this recipe, and Jamie suggests mashing all the ingredients together using a mortar and pestle to get some 'bashed and bruised flavor that makes this dish incredible.' I don't have a mortar and pestle nearly big enough to do that, so I made mine in my food processor. To make the pea and fava bean puree even smoother, consider blanching the fava beans before processing them.
1 pound of peas in their pods, or about 5 ounces shelled
1 1/2 pounds of fava beans in their pods, or about 9 ounces shelled
Small bunch of fresh mint leaves (I used about 20 leaves)
2 tbsp grated parmesan cheese
Juice of 1 lemon
Extra virgin olive oil (at least 2 tbsp)
Hearty bread like sourdough or ciabatta, sliced
Boccocini, buffalo mozzarella, or other fresh whey-packed mozzarella
Shell the peas and fava beans, and remove some of the fava bean skins if they are thick. If you prefer, blanch the fava beans in boiling water for 3-5 minutes, and slip off the skins.
Add the peas, fava beans, mint, and lemon juice to a food processor. Blend until the peas and beans are in small bits, then add the parmesan cheese and about 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil. Blend well, and then check for texture. You will probably need to add at least 1-3 more tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil to get a smoother, richer texture - this will really depend on the size/texture of your peas and fava beans. You want the richness of the oil and the cheese to balance the peas and beans, and the texture should be spreadable yet still grainy.
To serve, top sliced bread with some of the pea and fava bean puree, then tear off some of the fresh mozzarella to top the puree. If you like, add a bit more pea and fava puree on top and garnish with fresh peas, mint sprigs, or a sprinkle of parmesan. Serve immediately. Puree is best made the day of serving (color and flavor are brightest), but will keep refrigerated for 2-3 days more.
---This pea and fava bean puree can also be used like pesto - the addition of some extra olive oil will give a great consistency for coating the warm, fresh pasta.