Littlenecks with Fava Pod Pesto

Like any worthwhile relationship, Littlenecks with Fava Pod Pesto has its easy bits and its tricky parts.  The easy bits are the littlenecks. Lord knows, they seem to shoulder their way onto our blog with yet another clam recipe–Pick me! Pick me!–every three months or so.  There’s a reason we eat them so often – no prep to speak of, and they share.  Coax them open with a little heat and they leak their ambrosial juices into whatever else is in the pan.

The pods of fava beans are the last guys to be invited onto the recipe team, if  they’re chosen at all, an undeserved fate, particularly in light of the expense of favas, and the relatively few beans per pound.  The pods have a bright spring flavor and color to match. With the beans still inside, they can they can be dressed in olive oil, grilled and eaten along with the beans.  Or, after the beans have been removed, as here, you can blanch the pods to make pesto the shade of pureed leprechaun (a Mediterranean leprechaun).  The only drawback is their strings.  If you don’t want strings in your pesto you’ve got to rub the cooked pods through a strainer.  Sorry.  A food mill will do the job, if you have one (ours bit the dust on a lobster shell and we have yet to replace it).  Blenders and food processors don’t work – the strings just spin around like kids on a tilt-a-whirl.

If you want to make your life a walk in the park, replace our instructions with your own favorite pesto recipe.

We like serving toasted rustic bread with the fava pesto on the side, but if you prefer the bread in the bottom of the bowl to soak up all the juices, just spread the toast with the pesto while the clams are cooking and then place slices in the bowls.  As the clams open, place them on top of the bread.

Two people can feast off this recipe, with sufficient leftover pesto to slather a few slices of focaccia the next day.  As an appetizer instead of an entrée, the recipe makes enough for you to invite the couple downstairs to join you.  We scaled the dish for 2 because of the size of the pan necessary to hold 2 generous entrée portions of 14 clams each.  By all means double or triple things if you have the cookware to handle it.  Either way, it will still taste good.


LIttlenecks with Fava Pod Pesto-28

  • Servings: 2 main-course or 4 appetizers
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  • 1 pound small fava pods
  • Kosher salt
  • 1½ cups fresh basil leaves
  • ½ cup extra virgin olive oil
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons toasted pine nuts
  • 3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 2 tablespoons freshly grated sharp Pecorino cheese
  • 1 large white onion, finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon minced or grated ginger
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • ½ teaspoon anise seeds
  • ¼ teaspoon hot red pepper flakes
  • ½ cup white wine
  • 1 cup chopped fresh or canned peeled tomatoes
  • 28 littleneck clams, rinsed
  • ¼ cup cilantro leaves
  • 2 slices rustic bread, ¾-inch thick, toasted
  • ½ lemon


  1. Remove the beans from the pods. Trim the pods to remove the ends, strings and any discolored bits.  Slice each pod crosswise into 3 or 4 pieces.
  2. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.  Prepare a large bowl of ice water.  Set ¼ cup of the basil leaves aside to use in step 7.  Add the remaining 1¼ cups basil leaves to the boiling water and blanch 30 seconds, then scoop it into the ice water to stop the cooking.  Remove from the ice water and dry in a paper towel.
  3. Dump the fava beans into the boiling water, blanch 1 minute, then scoop them into the bowl of ice water.  As soon as they’ve cooled, remove them, peel and split.
  4. Dump the pods into the water and cook until super tender but still bright green, about 4 minutes.  Scoop them into the bowl of ice water.   Once they’ve cooled, drain and squeeze them to release excess moisture.  Put them in a food processor and with the blade whirring add 2 tablespoons of olive oil.  Puree until smooth.  Season with salt and pepper, then push the puree through a strainer.  A food mill will also do the job.
  5. Rinse and dry the bowl of the food processor.  Add the blanched basil, pine nuts, 1 clove of chopped garlic and 2 tablespoons olive oil.  Pulse to a paste.  Add the fava pod puree and blend.  Transfer to a bowl and stir in the Pecorino. Taste and adjust seasonings.  Don’t add lemon – it will cause the pesto to discolor if you plan to keep it for more than an hour or so.  Besides, you’re going to add lemon to the bread below.
  6. Heat the remaining ¼ cup of olive oil in a large sauté pan over medium heat.  Add the onion and cook until tender, about 6 minutes.  If you haven’t toasted the bread yet, now is a good time to do it.  Add the remaining garlic and the ginger and cook 1 minute.  Add the tomato paste, anise seeds, and hot red pepper flakes and cook 1 minute.  Stir in the white wine and tomatoes.  Give the clams one more rinse and then add them to the pan.  Cover and cook until the clams are just beginning to open (check after a couple of minutes).  Remove them to 2 bowls as they open.  Discard any clams that refuse to open.  Add the fresh favas to the pan, along with the remaining basil and the cilantro.  Toss to heat through and then pour over the clams.
  7. While the clams are cooking scrub the toasts with the half lemon and then top them with a big smear of fava pod pesto.  Serve with the clams.


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Jody Notes:  

I love fava beans, even if they involve a bit of extra effort.  Italians are smart – they just give everyone a bunch of  raw pods at the end of a family meal and let everyone shell and peel his or her own beans.  The reward is dipping the end of a raw bean in salt, popping it in your mouth and chasing it with a bite of pecorino cheese.  Young favas are exquisite raw.  Prepping and eating your own this way  makes you really appreciate them.

But when cooking them I like to use the whole pod, if possible, since the yield is small – 1 cup of beans per  pound of  pods – and they can be pricey.  Years ago a Moroccan in my kitchen told me his mother snaps the whole pods into short pieces and then cooks them with the fava beans still inside in a vegetable stew.  This works when the pods are small and tender, but not so well as the pods mature.  By the time the big pods are cooked, the beans are overdone.  This recipe allows you to get the most out of the pod, without sacrificing the beautiful green fava beans, and in this nose-to-tail approach, you incorporate 2 different fava flavors.  Now,  if I only had some fava leaves…

Random confession: I burned the pine nuts – twice! – before getting them right.  FYI, NEVER answer your phone, send a text, or even glance at the paper while toasting pine nuts.  

Go ahead; click on something to see it with a little more detail.  Left and right arrow keys will move you through the photos.

45 thoughts

  1. Thanks for this beautiful posting. I never knew the pods could be used like this and have thrown away so many over the years. Yay!

    • Neither did I–until I met my wife. Also, people grilling or stewing them whole was a revelation to me as well. I really like them grilled, as a fun pre-dinner thing with friends. People sitting around drinking beer or wine and eating favas. Ken

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  3. I’ve never tried Fava Beans because they remind me too much of bad experiences I had in my childhood with Lima Beans (shudders). I’m almost willing to try them after reading your post…especially the part about eating the pods raw with salt and cheese.

    • Actually, you DON’T eat the pods raw – you eat the beans raw. You split the pods open, skin the beans (pinch off an end of the skin wrapping, and squeeze the bean out), then dip just the bean in the salt. As regards the limas, you have nothing to worry about. I like lima beans, but fava beans don’t taste like them. Good luck with your first fava experience. ken

  4. Ah fava beans. They seem to appear in the shops for two weeks and then disappear for the rest of the year. Liked them in Egypt, and have liked them ever since, thanks for another way to enjoy these elusive, but very worthwhile beans.

      • We did have dukkah, really good stuff. Will look for your post on it, thanks! We enjoyed almost everything we had in the middle east, only exception was the American food (hot dogs, burgers) in Jordan.

  5. I’ve never had fava beans but I can think of Hannibal Lector’s comment of their affinity to chianti. Baltimore has it’s two big markets on Sat. & Sunday, maybe someone will be selling them. This looks sooo good, I can’t wait to try it. Thanks!

    • Ah, yes, the good Doctor Lector. Will we ever eat fava beans again without considering “a good Chianti” to go with them? Hannibal notwithstanding, favas are incredibly good. Before you cook them–if you’ve never had them before–you should definitely munch a few raw beans (not the pods) with a chaser of pecorino and a swallow of red wine. Good luck. Ken

  6. It’s high time I gave the fava bean a second try. I’ll stick with fresh rather than the canned variety I found at the grocery store. (Blech.) Also, I’m loving the language in your post today.

    “The easy bits are the littlenecks. Lord knows, they seem to shoulder their way onto our blog with yet another clam recipe.” Nicely done.

    • Hmmm. I wish we had canned favas near us, if they were halfway decent. (You might be surprised what a good rinse, some olive oil and minced garlic can do.) One of the world’s great simple mezzes or appetizers is fava puree with a little evoo and garlic. Unbelievably addictive with red wine. Glad you enjoyed the clams reference. I keep telling them to put their hands down and let somebody else have a turn. :-) Ken

    • Gwynne–Since you LIKED so many of the photos I’ll share a bit of insider knowledge with you. Look at picture 19 (the full pan of not-yet-open clams). You’ll notice that some of the clams seem to have what looks like a jagged electro-cardiograph on the exterior of their shells. That marking is unique to the clam hybrids used in aquaculture. Not all cultivated clams have it, but no wild ones do. All of the clams in the recipe were from a friend (and marine biologist’s) aquaculture grant in Wellfleet, on Cape Cod. Ken

      • Yeah, I never would have known to look for that marking or even what it meant. Thanks for the info, Ken. Also, you and Jody are lucky to have a marine biologist friend who likes to share. :)

  7. Wow–I’m going to add this to my list of things to make in fava season. I’m also going to let you in on a little secret. Down here in the Providence area, which I know you are familiar with, my favorite farmstand, Four Town Farm, grows pick-your-own favas. Last year they were $1 a pound. They tell me that favas will come in around late June (pick-your-own peas at the same time). Four Town supplies a lot of the local restaurants, but they also sell a lot of freshly picked produce at the stand. Definitely worth a road trip!

    • Hi, Susan–It’s been awhile. Pick your own favas–what a great option! Especially for $1/pound. I think I’d be living near that farm for a couple of weeks while all this way going on. I wonder if they sell them dried? Thanks for stopping by. Ken

      • Hi Ken:
        They don’t sell them dried. In fact, when I asked about them they wondered how I cooked them! I’m going to try freezing them after blanching and peeling to see if I can extend the season a bit.

  8. Wow, it looks really delicious. I love the group of process photography ;). I love fava beans for their particular flavor , a bit laborious to cook and take them out of the first and second peel but at the end one has a great flavor). In Spain any dish that contains fava beans tend to be expensive in any restaurant I guess it’s because of that.

    • Thanks for saying nice things about the photo collage. Regarding fava beans, we don’t buy them unless we know we’ll have time for the pleasure of dealing with them. Prepping favas is one of those ancient enjoyable kitchen pleasures–like making orecchiette or shelling peas–that are ruined if you’re pressured for time. Ken

  9. I never ever would have thought you could use fava bean pods. I’ve always been struck by how spongy they are inside. They do make an amazing color, and I love the idea of not feeling like I’m throwing away 3/4 of the purchase by weight. Now can you solve the same guilty feeling I have when dealing with artichokes?

  10. This looks heavenly – we adore clams and those gorgeous little broad beans (same as fava right? think so!) are plentiful at the moment. Love the fact that you use the whole of the pod too – great idea and will definitely try this one out.

    • Yes on the broad beans = favas. Great combination. Interesting how many people have commented how they hate that ordinarily so much of the fava is just discarded. Anyway, try them with clams – I’m sure you’ll like the combination. Ken

  11. I made this last night. Actually, prepped the favas the day before. This was delicious! I served this with pasta instead of bread; mixed in the pesto at the end. Thanks for this recipe!

  12. Beauteous as always. I want to come to your house and eat – would you consider a supper club? Being English, I am not familiar with fava beans – are they similar to broad beans? I wonder if they behave inn the same way. Anyway, I await your cookbook with growing impatience (though I adore your blog, and want you to continue forever, please).

    • Broad beans = fava beans, as far as I know. I think “broad beans” is used in England and. somewhat loosely, in the US. I say loosely because you sometimes see other beans in long pods called broad beans at farmers markets. As for a book, given what’s happening with the publishing industry these days, we’ll be writing about food in our blog for a long long time. Ken

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