This warm fava bean salad with waluts and pear is a harbinger of spring. Enjoy its subtle, albeit distinct, pork flavor today!
Fava beans don't make it easy for you to love them.
Like a girl who's had her heart broken one too many times, they've barricaded themselves with a fortress of inedible protection to keep suitors from the tender, nutty kernels deep down inside. To prove your worth and commitment, you've got to remove a spongy outer pod that looks (and feels) like a set piece from Little Shop of Horrors or a '50s sci-fi movie, then a tough shell surrounding the delicate bean.
With an attitude like that, you'd be forgiven for shrugging off the idea of cooking them at home. But you know what they say: anything worth having is worth fighting for. And the reward of a fresh fava bean salad, green with promise after a cold, colorless winter, is a more than worthwhile way to celebrate the new growing season.
Favas are typically paired with peas and mint, two other early harbingers of spring. And it's easy to interchange peas and favas - this salad, in fact was inspired by a dish from the San Francisco Italian pizzeria that paired shelled peas and pea shoots with guanciale, the aromatic Italian cured meat made from a pig's jowl.
The creamy white fat of guanciale (pronounced "gwan-chee-AL-ay") is unparalleled in its richness and flavor, and lends a subtle but distinct porkiness to every dish in which it's used.
If your local butcher doesn't carry guanciale, get on his case to get some in the case! La Quercia is a wonderful American producer whose meats are widely carried in supermarkets like Whole Foods.) Then feel free to substitute pancetta or unsmoked bacon in its place.
Oh, and no Hannibal Lecter jokes, please. Though it's true that a slightly fruity and tannic red like Chianti matches up well with the earthy taste of walnuts and pork in this salad, a dry white wine like an Italian Friuli would fit the bill equally well.