Spring is finally making its way through the end of the rains. The earth warms and our desire to eat out ramps up. The favas (fave in Italian) are tender inside their skins (Buccia in Italian).
It’s time. Time to eat them raw.
You might be surprised when the plate comes in a restaurant on Italian soil. The prep is nearly non-existent. Who needs it? Bean pods are scattered on the plate, alongside some Pecorino cheese and perhaps some pancetta. The combination is classic.
How do you know they’re good and fresh? Look for the word “nostro,” meaning the restaurant gets them from their own gardens or farm. That’s where ours come from, We had the dish above as an appetizer at the Osteria dei Sani in Sarzana, a very compelling destination in Liguria.
The osteria is run by the same folks who run Il Borgo della Colomba Agriturismo, where they have a farm that grows fave for the restaurant. The farm is a fattoria didattica, a farm to teach city kids where their food comes from and how it’s cooked. That’s how you keep a cuisine relevant.
So sitting at a table on the cobbled street we enjoy the fave and three kinds of pecorino cheese on the first warm day of spring, a treat indeed. But one of the cheeses was yellow, a rather bright one at that. What could it be, pecorino isn’t that color!
The cheese was also studded with peppercorns. Intrigued, I asked the waitress what it was. She said it was local.
“I mean, what do you call it?” I asked.
“Pecorino,” she said.
Well, this wasn’t the answer I expected. So, I did my research and I came up with the only cheese that made sense. Piacentinu. Looking at the name and the “u” ending, you might surmise that it comes from the south or one of the islands, Sicily or Sardinia.
Sicily was the answer. Piacentinu Ennese PDO is from the territory around Enna in Sicily. It is a sheep’s milk cheese flavored and colored by saffron and the addition of black peppercorns, a perfect match. Perhaps there is a Ligurian version; I’d like to know more.
In any case, you dig in, running a fingernail over the seam of the pod and release the succulent favas to be eaten with the pecorino cheeses and perhaps a drop of honey.
And one last thing: I call your attention to the “plate” which is really a thin slab of slate. Serving things on slate is popular all around Italy and southern France—and maybe other places, but Liguria seems to be the place where it all started:
Slate is a metamorphic rock of sedimentary origin characterised by a particular resistance to atmospheric agents. It is believed that it was first used about two thousand two hundred years ago, in the area between the town of Lavagna and the Fontanabuona Valley in Liguria, northwest Italy, where a necropolis made entirely of this material was found. — Slate
You can visit the slate museum, Museo dell’Ardesia in Chiapparino, in the municipality of Cicagna.
Food. It’s always interesting how a culture treats what they harvest.