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
- 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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.
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