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a spring braise


Deborah

The fruits and vegetables of Spring are coming at us at long last and I can't keep my hands off them!



This week I have been making a lot of Mediterranean inspired menus, both for myself and for clients. A light braise of tender spring vegetables is perfect this time of year and goes so well with the Moroccan tagines, spiked with preserved lemons, that keep obsessing me. Artichokes, spinach and fava beans make a great combination and really bring the season to the table.



Fresh fava beans are not always easy to find, even when in season. The average supermarket will probably not carry them. I found a bounty at Whole Foods at Union Square yesterday and grabbed them up. A pound of favas in their pods will yield about a cup and a quarter of beans. Not much. The work piles up when in addition to removing the beans from their fleshy pods, they then have to be blanched and skinned. The skinning requires a pinch and a push for every bean. Not difficult, but certainly time consuming.

Is it worth it? Well, the flavor is delicate. Favas are similar in flavor, looks and texture to young fresh lima beans or edamame, and you could substitute either of those for the favas in a recipe. But fresh favas can be considered a delicacy and so I urge you to go for it if you have the opportunity.

I cheated on the artichokes, buying frozen and saving my busy work for the favas. Fresh, tender spinach leaves melt down quickly in this dish and pull all the flavors together.


Artichoke Hearts, Spinach and Fava Beans Braised in White Wine
1 lb. fava beans in their pods
3 Tbs. extra virgin olive oil
1 onion, minced
4 cloves garlic, finely minced
1 lb. frozen artichoke hearts, defrosted
1 lb. young spinach leaves
1/2 cup dry white wine
1/4 cup chopped mint
salt and pepper to taste

For the Fava Beans:
Remove the beans from their pods and discard the pods. In boiling salted water, blanch the beans for five minutes, till tender. Strain the beans from the pot and set aside to cool. When the beans are cool enough to handle, gently remove the skin and reserve the beans.
For the Braise:
Heat the oil in a saute pan, add the onion and garlic and cook for 6-8 minutes, till the onion is soft. Add the artichoke hearts to the pan and season with salt and pepper. Cook the artichokes, stirring ocasionally, for about 10 minutes. Add the spinach to the pan and add an extra drizzle of olive oil if the pan seems dry. Stir the spinach until it is coated with oil and the ingredients are combined. Add the white wine and cover the pan. Cook at a low temperature for 6-7 minutes until the spinach has wilted. Add the fava beans and the chopped mint and stir to combine. Cover and cook for another 3-4 minutes till the beans are warmed through.
Serves four.

Amanda
This just might be my dinner tonight! But since it is Book Fair night at the elementary school and time is a factor, I might go for the edamame idea. But I do have one question: If I decided to go with fava beans, and did not take the time to remove the skin, would this negatively affect the outcome of the dish? I have not worked with fava beans before, so just curious...

Artichokes are one of the notorious "difficult-to-pair-with-wine" vegetables. They have a tendency to make wines taste more sweet than they actually are. I have read that adding lemon to the dish and pairing with a wine with high acidity is a good remedy for this problem. So Deb, how do you think adding fresh lemon juice to the braise would affect it?

Going this route would have me adding a little lemon juice (pending Deb's response...) and choosing a crisp Sauvignon Blanc. Buy extra, and use the same wine for the braise. The Sancerre region is located in the Loire Valley of France, and the wines are made from the Sauvignon Blanc grape. They are bone dry, have racy acidity, and typically have very little oak influence. Winemakers tend to focus on bringing out the best, most pure elements of the Sauvignon Blanc grape as well as the terroir.

Sancerre is typically more expensive than the "everyday" category, but you can easily find great wines in the $15-$20 price range. Pascal Jolivet is a big name in Sancerre, and his wines are very readily available. One of my current favorites, though, is the Domaine Laporte Sancerre ($19.99). It offers zippy acidity combined with wonderful citrus, honey flavors, and a fine minerality.