Baby artichokes have a brief season, and appear once or twice a year, usually around early September and/or in May. They are little and cute, and their chokes are undeveloped, making them easy to prepare compared to their larger counterparts. And as a consequence, they are more expensive. At $5.00 a pound, I bought four, picking out the nicest ones.
Fava beans also make a brief appearance, usually around April-May and into the summer. I bought some last month and promptly lost them in the refrigerator, forgetting about them in the crush of the start of the academic year. After I bought the artichokes, I remembered them—both are so ancient Roman, the association just jumped into my mind—and went hunting through the bins, ultimately finding them behind the bottles of cream and buttermilk, where they should not have been and somewhat explaining their oversight. A few I had to toss, but most were absolutely fine. After all, they are protected by a tough pod; they look a lot like big lima beans. This may be one of the reasons for their popularity back in the day—you know, when there was no refrigeration. They could be carried around for a long time, then ultimately shelled and dried.
Not that fava beans are not delicious in their own right; they are. Both favas and baby artichokes represent a different kind of seasonal treat than, say, berries or corn. Instead of juicy or sweet and refreshing they are earthy, meaty, satisfying. They lend themselves to long cooking and simple methods of braising, roasting, or boiling. They are good simply prepared on their own, or in a homey, saucy dish like a stew (they like lamb and beef as companions) or a pasta. A little goes a long way.
Pasta with Baby Artichokes and Fava Beans
4 baby artichokes
½ cup shelled fresh fava beans (about ½ lb)
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 T olive oil
1 tea bacon fat (optional)
Juice of 1 medium orange
1 cup good beef stock
2 T sour cream, preferably homemade
3-5 T unhomogenized heavy cream
½ fresh red, ripe chile pepper (I used Serrano), seeded and finely minced
1 cup dried tubular pasta, such as mini penne
Salt and pepper
Fresh mint, roughly chopped
Freshly ground imported parmesan
Remove the outer leaves of the artichokes and trim the stems and the tops so that the little artichokes are squat little blocks. Quarter them and put them in a small bowl with half the orange juice and enough water to cover. Break the pods of the favas, much as you would the pod of a pea, their cousins, and remove the beans.
In a chef’s or other heavy pan, heat the olive oil and the bacon fat if using. Add the drained artichokes and beans, and sauté for a few minutes over medium-high heat; when they begin to brown, add the garlic and sauté a few minutes longer, reducing the heat a bit so the garlic does not burn, until nicely golden.
Add the remaining orange juice, the beef stock, and 5 or 6 twists of the pepper mill. Bring to a boil, then reduce and cook at a low bubbly, partly covered with a lid, until the artichokes and beans are tender and pierce easily with the sharp tip of a knife—about 15 minutes. At this point the stock should be reduced by about half; if not, continue cooking, raising the heat a bit, until it is.
Cook the pasta in salted water according to directions, and while it is cooking, add the sour cream, 3 T of cream, and the chile to the artichoke/bean mixture, stirring. Cook until it reduces to a sauce that coats the spoon, then add a tablespoon or two more, repeating the reduction of the sauce.
When the pasta is ready, drain it, and toss it with the vegetables. Taste for salt and pepper. Serve with lots of chopped mint and a little parmesan cheese.