Fava beans , also known as known broad beans, have been part of the human diet from time immemorial. They were probably one of the staples in ancient Israel, since they are mentioned more than once in the Mishnah. Archaeologists even found charred samples in Israel near Nazareth, dating back to 4900 BCE! They were also cultivated in ancient Egypt, Greece and Rome, and remained for a long time the only bean available in Europe – until other types were brought from the Americas in the 1500′s.
In Central and Southern Italy, fava beans announce the warm season, and people wait excitedly for their arrival at the local markets. When purchased fresh, the beans need to be removed from their pods, blanched, and then popped out of their skins, which is something I look forward to doing while watching the latest Mad Men episode. If you are not so patient, you can skip all these steps by buying them frozen. I never ate fava beans at home in Venice, they were always a treat that I enjoyed when visiting my grandmother in Tuscany: she gave them to me right out of the shell and dipped in olive oil, accompanied by a slice of fresh Pecorino cheese – a match made in heaven! In the winter, Nonna would also make a puree from dried fava beans with escarole, which she served with simple Tuscan bread.