My ass is due east of Suck On It, Tunisia.
If I’m not cooking directly from a recipe or making one of my standby dishes, I’m trying to riff off someone else’s ideas. I can poach a mean egg and I have a decent sense of what goes with what (e.g., bacon goes with everything), but I don’t flatter myself that I’m particularly innovative or have some kind of culinary talentg. I have more of an all-around genius than a specific savant-like gift.
Every once in a while, though, I make up a dish that seems pretty unique (at least to me), an unexpected combo of flavors. I think this dish is one of those, at least until I buy a new cookbook and find out that it’s some kind of classic that I should have already known. Fuckin’ A.
Fava Beans: Vice Archduke of Beans
Here’s how I ended up with my pea, fava and mint puree-stuffed shells with lamb agrodolce (sweet and sour) sauce. I was thinking of the excellent fava leaf tortellini with lamb we had out a few weeks ago; I want to replicate it, but didn’t have the time or energy to braise lamb shanks today and I don’t own a pasta roller to make fresh dough (I know, I know). I’ve also been wanting to do a classic spring lamb-pea-mint combo dish, have been trying to think of a fresh approach (not that I don’t love a lamb chop and some minty peas, because yum).
With those inspirations rolling around in my giant skull, I hit on my inner Italian nonna inspired shells: I would make a sweet, nutty, creamy filling of pureed fava beans, peas and mint with mascarpone and ricotta, spoon it into ready-made pasta shells and top them with a tomato-based lamb sauce with some bold sweet-and-sour undertones.
Peas: King of Peas
Fava beans, also called broad beans, are a delicious and fleeting spring treat. They’re also weird and somewhat irritating. There, I said it. They’re long and thick-skinned, and the actual beans are encased in a sticky styrofoam-like substance. They are somewhat resistant to being forced from their foamy beds, and occasionally the force required to out them causes one to shoot from the pod and fly across the kitchen, perhaps hitting a sleeping dog in the eye and causing him to grumble.
I’m willing to entertain the idea that this may just be me.
And this is only the FIRST PHASE of extraction: Once you’ve gotten them out of the pods, you still need to skin each individual bean to find the tender little bean inside. If fava beans didn’t taste so good, I would say that this is god’s way of telling us not to eat them.
Since my beans were destined for ultimate destruction in the food processor, I may have left the skins on my beans.* You won’t do this, because you’re a better person than me.
*In accordance with my motto; let’s all say it with feeling! “Fuck it.”
I just could not take a good picture of this. Sorry.*
I blanched the beans and peas in some water that “taste[d] of the sea” and threw them into the food processor with a big handful of fresh mint, mascarpone, ricotta, salt, and a few whole eggs and egg yolks for binding. I whizzed the whole mess until it was a lovely pale mint green the color of a onesie you buy for a baby whose sex you don’t yet know, or whose parents have requested non-gender-stereotype-reinforcing gifts (FYI, yellow ducks are also appropriate). The puree was fairly loose, so I stashed it in the fridge to firm up a bit while I turned my attention to the sauce.
Do you think I could start convincing people to call food processors “fo-pros” (pronounced foe-proe)? It could be a new catchphrase, like “EVOO” or “garbage bowl” or “Rachael Ray, please get some better-fitting pants.”
The lamb goes in once the onions are finished burning to a crisp caramelizing.
The sauce started, as most good things do, with onions sauteing in olive oil. Since I wanted sweetness in the sauce to pair with the peas and counteract the slightly bitter note of the fava beans, I let them caramelize a little. Or a lot. I added some minced garlic, and threw in the ground lamb and let it get nice and brown.
Taking a cue from my bolognese, I added a goodly amount of wine and let it reduce way down. Since I wasn’t trying to create a rich red sauce, I used a sweet white – some leftover Riesling I had sitting in the fridge.
What was life like before I had Le Creuset? I can hardly recall; probably I was disease-ridden and filthy, living on mayonnaise sandwiches and Tab.
I added half a bottle of my favorite tomato puree. Then, to really punch up the agrodolce-ness, I added a few tablespoons of honey and a few of red wine vinegar. A little salt to balance things out, and I pushed the pot back onto the simmer burner while I cooked up the shells.
Nothing but empty shells.
These shells were advertised as “jumbo,” but that was a filthy lie; it ended up taking 5 or 6 to fill Brian and me up.
This meal would have been vastly improved with fresh pasta, and it underscored my need for the pasta attachment for my KitchenAid. And that’s all that need be said about that.
Food Rule #4: Things stuffed in other things are almost always tasty.
I spooned my slightly-more-firm filling into the drained shells, relying on the egg in the puree to tighten things up more in the oven.
Food Rule #5: Things smothered in lamb sauce follow Rule # 4 (i.e., tastiness).
I spooned a generous layer of lamb sauce over the whole dish and put it into the oven.
Not even PhotoShop can help me.
The kitchen smelled pretty good, but I was still kinda apprehensive about the finished dish. It didn’t hew closely enough to anything I’ve made or eaten before for me to have any sense of what it would taste like. I thought the components would make a whole greater than their sum – the filling was a bit too creamy and sweet minty pea-y, and the sauce a little too brashly sweet and sour on its own – but I’ve been known to fail in a spectacular way.
I needn’t have worried. This was good. Really really good. Awesomely, wonderfully good. Lack of homemade pasta aside, the flavors all came together in a novel but balanced way. The filling firmed up, but the inclusion of mascarpone kept it smooth and creamy. The nutty and slightly bitter favas paired nicely with the sweet peas and stood up to the mint, which added a fresh herbal note without being overpowering. The lamb-mint-pea combo was apparent, but as part of the larger medley of flavors.
The sauce was point and counterpoint all at once: The sweetness of the tomatoes, wine and honey complemented the sweet peas and acted like a foil to the favas, while the sour bite of the vinegar kept things from getting too one-note or cloying. There were enough different sweet elements (tomatoes, caramelized onions, honey, wine) and sour/acidic elements (tomatoes, vinegar, wine) that the sauce was rich and multi-layered instead of just being brash.
I’m not 100% sure what umami is, but I’m pretty sure it had that too. It just kept getting better as we ate it, and the flavors stayed bright and interesting with every bite; there was no leveling off.
Not related: Aqua Teen Hunger Force is incredibly bizarre and stupid, yet fucking hilarious.
Because I didn’t really think at all about amounts, I ended up with leftovers of everything. Which is great, because I foresee wanting to have this again for dinner in the not too distant future.
If you happen to know of a pre-existing recipe like this, please wait 48 hours before telling me so that I can at least have 2 days of feeling good about myself.
Fava Bean, Pea and Mint-Stuffed Pasta with Lamb Agrodolce Sauce
For the filling:
8 oz. mascarpone cheese
8 oz. ricotta cheese
1/2 c. fava beans
1/2 c. peas
1/2 c. mint leaves
2 whole eggs + 1 egg yolk
1/2 tsp. salt
Blanch the fava beans and peas in boiling salted water until bright green and tender. Add to food processor along with remaining ingredients. Process until smooth. Taste and adjust for salt and mintiness. Refrigerate until needed.
For the sauce:
1 medium onion, finely diced
4 cloves garlic, finely diced
2 tbsp. olive oil
1/2 lb ground lamb
1 1/2 c. sweet white wine
1 1/2 c. tomato puree
3 tbsp. honey
1 tbsp. white wine vinegar
4 sprigs fresh thyme, leaves only
salt to taste
Heat a heavy saucepan over medium heat. Add the olive oil and onion, saute until golden brown, 15-20 minutes. Add the garlic and cook 2-3 minutes more.
Turn the heat up to medium-high and add the lamb; cook until browned. Add the wine and boil until the liquid is reduced to a scant 1/3 of a cup.
Add the remaining ingredients. Bring to a simmer and simmer for 2o minutes. Taste and adjust the salt, vinegar and honey to your liking; you should have a balanced sweet and sour flavor with neither taste overpowering the other. Continue to simmer until you’re ready to use.
To finish, stuff the filing into the pasta of your choice; I used store-bought shells, but would recommend making homemade ravioli or tortellini. Bake or boil according to the type of pasta you’re using. Top with the sauce; a sprinkle of parm would not be remiss.
Both sauces can me made in advance.