For the current edition of Cook the Books, we are reading The United States of Arugula by David Kamp (2006). I don't think I can add much to the many reviews the book has received since its publication. It is undoubtedly an important book, very interesting and pleasant to read. Kamp's book paints a complete and complex picture that helps the reader understand how certain aspects of the food world in the US evolved to be the way they are now.
My perspective in reading the book is that of an outsider-insider: I am an Italian who moved to the San Francisco Bay Area (theater of a number of the developments narrated in the book) as an adult (18 years ago), with well-established food roots. I learned not only to cook but to enjoy doing so, and, as a result, I eat out only very rarely. Finally, I don't watch television. From this special perspective, the story told in the book is fascinating, and also puzzling. I am very much Italian in my approach to food and totally immune from the obsession with French cuisine depicted in the book. Such obsession puzzles me.
Kamp dedicates some thoughtful paragraphs to Italian cuisine. You can read an example here. This excerpt brought to my mind two things. First, the 1996 movie Big Night, which shows very nicely the tension between Italian regional cuisine and Americans' perception of it influenced by the Italian-American community. Then, an episode from my previous life. Before moving to the US, one summer, I worked at a Club Med resort in Morocco. The guests came from France, Italy, Belgium, Germany, the UK. One evening, the dining room was divided into two sections: in one, guests would be served a French menu, in the other, an Italian menu. At dinner time, things did not quite go as expected: almost everybody wanted to go into one section — and it was not the one where French food would be served. As Marcella Hazan says in the passage referenced above with regards to Italian food, "it's food that you eat with pleasure... You don't have to analyze it, you just enjoy that it's so."
The recipe that follows is connected to another page of the book, where Ms. Betty Fussell's comment on food hype is reported, within the context of an assessment of Alice Waters' contribution to the discussion on food ways. (You can read the page here.) These Fussell's words made me smile: "little tiny Italian fava-bean grower down the road." I am actually happy that nowadays I can find fresh fava beans at the farmers' market (and fava greens too), a food that is quite common in Italy and that I ate often as a kid.
The other element of the recipe is garlic scapes. The scape is the elegant leafless "stem from which the seed head of the garlic bulb is formed" (source). Garlic scapes are a relatively recent entry in my kitchen: they have gained in popularity in recent years and are now easily found at farmers' market, appearing at the same time as fava beans, a coincidence that I interpreted as a suggestion.
Most recipes I have seen use scapes to make a variation of pesto, or as a side dish, roasted. My spread tastes of fresh fava beans, of aromatic garlic scapes and of pungent fiore sardo cheese. In this small dish, I bring together my Italian heritage and my experience with interesting ingredients I find in Californian farmers' markets. More than an exact recipe, this is an invitation to play with the main ingredients. It is also a variation on the classic Italian combination of fava beans and pecorino cheese.
Note: Savory has a flavor reminiscent of thyme, with mint and pepper tones. I have a bush of winter savory (santoreggia montana) in my herb garden, and I like to experiment with it. If you don't have it, try using one or two leaves of fresh mint (menta).
- 1 1/4 lb. fresh fava beans in their pod (about 1 1/4 cup shelled)
- 2 1/2-3 oz. [70-85 g] garlic scapes
- 1 teaspoon fresh winter savory, optional (see note above)
- 1/4 cup fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves
- 3 tablespoons freshly grated fiore sardo
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
- Fine sea salt, to taste
Shell fava beans and blanch them for one minute, drain them and plunge them into a bowl of cold water. Drain them again, then remove the skin from the beans to bring their bright green core to light. Set aside.
Preheat the oven to 425 F. Cut thinner portion of garlic scapes (above the bulge); if they've yellowed, discard. Spread all the scapes onto a baking sheet lined with a silicone baking mat and sprinkle with olive oil and a bit of sea salt. Bake for 12 minutes, then remove the thinner pieces. Bake the rest for another 3-4 minutes. Let cool slightly, then coarsely chop scapes. (This seems complicated, but the top of the scapes ends up charred and I am trying to avoid that. If it still happens, snap off the charred portion and discard it before proceeding with the recipe.)
Put fava beans and scapes in the food processor and pulse to chop. Add herbs and process some more, then add the cheese and process briefly. While pulsing, dribble the oil into the feeding tube, then the lemon juice. Finally, sprinkle a bit of salt and process to a smooth paste by pulsing for several seconds at a time.
I have found that it is better to allow the ingredients to influence each other for a bit before changing the balance, so let the spread rest for 20 minutes or so, then taste and adjust seasoning (salt, lemon juice). Refrigerate until ready to use and take out of the refrigerator in advance, so that the spread in not cold when you serve it.
In the top photo, I am using a grissino as a vehicle for some of the spread.
This is my contribution to the current edition of Cook the Books, hosted by Jo of Food Junkie, Not Junk Food. You can find the guidelines for participating in the event here, and here is the announcement.
This post contains the roundup of the event.
I am also sending this to My Legume Love Affair 47, the current edition of the popular, legume-centered event created by Susan, The Well-Seasoned Cook, and hosted this month by Priya of Mharo Rajasthan's Recipes. This post contains the roundup of the event.
Click on the button to hear me pronounce the Italian words mentioned in the post:
or launch the crema di fave e scapi florali d'aglio audio file [mp3].
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