BY JEFF COX/Kenwood, California, USDA Zone 9
NURSERIES OF NOTE
California Flora Nursery
Planting natives in conditions they like is the easiest way to guarantee success in any garden, because the plants will be at home the minute you get them home. California Flora Nursery sells wholesale and retail and carries many native ornamental grasses, along with the flowering plants that make Sonoma County so special. California Flora is located at Somers and D streets in Fulton. For more information, call 707-528-8813, or visit www.calfloranursery.com.
The only beans the Europeans grew before Columbus brought back members of the genus Phaseolus from the New World were lentils, chickpeas, and the fava bean, Vicia faba. Now that I’ve discovered how delicious favas are, I’ve decided they were all the beans the ancients really needed.
Fava beans are a cool-weather crop. In cold-winter regions, they’re planted as soon as the soil can be worked in the spring. Here in USDA Zone 9 California, they’re planted in October, and they grow over the long, cool winter, maturing in March or April. After the pods are gathered, these two- to three-foot-tall legumes can be chopped down and turned under the soil as a nitrogen-rich green manure to join the nitrogen-fixing bacteria that colonize their roots. So they feed us and they feed the garden, too.
It’s rare, but some people of Mediterranean, African, and Southeast Asian heritage who eat favas develop a serious anemic condition called favism. If that’s your heritage and you’ve never eaten fava beans before, you might want to ask your doctor to do the simple test that shows if you’re at risk. For everyone else, favas are very nutritious. They also play a role in assuaging Parkinson’s Disease, as they are a source of the amino acid levodopa, or L-Dopa, from which some commercial Parkinson’s drug treatments are made.
Fava beans can be parboiled gently in their long pods for five to six minutes, then shelled for use in other dishes, such as soups and stews, where they finish cooking. After parboiling, run cold water over the pods, then open them to reveal from three to five beans. Favas have a tough and sometimes bitter seed coat that’s an unappealing gray color. Each seed coat has a small green area at one end. With your thumbnail, nick open the seed coat at the end opposite the green part. Holding the bean by the green part, squeeze it gently and the bright green bean inside will slip out. I do this no matter what their size, even though small beans don’t yield much food.
Favas have a delightfully subtle, green taste and a silky texture, so look for ways to showcase their delicate flavor, such as dressing cooked favas with just a little olive oil and fleur de sel. Go Mediterranean with favas, sauteing the shelled beans with olive oil, chopped scallions, thyme, oregano, rosemary, and garlic. Favas have an affinity for the Italian flavors of pancetta, olive oil, thyme, pecorino cheese, and the breath-freshening herb called summer savory, which tastes like a mixture of thyme and mint.
Here is one of my favorite ways to prepare favas. Buy about two pounds of pods, shell the beans raw, remove the seed coats, and set aside. Dice two ounces of pancetta (or substitute bacon), half an onion, and half a celery stalk, then saute them in a dab of olive oil until the fat in the pancetta has melted and the onions soften. Add the fava beans and a half-cup of beef broth, cover, and simmer for 20 minutes. Then add salt and pepper to taste and garnish with minced parsley. Yum! H
Heucheras are native to the West Coast, so I expect them to do well in my garden. But Heuchera ‘Marmalade’, from Terra Nova Nurseries (www.terranovanurseries.com), is exceptional for its ease of cultivation, its marmalade-and-green ruffly leaves with rhubarb-pink undersides, and its creamy flowers, which attract hummingbirds. It likes full sun to partial shade and grows 10 inches tall and 18 inches across. Sources, page 76.