You’re supposed to understand Hannibal Lecter is a psychopath, in The Silence of the Lambs, because he says he ate a human liver, but the more clinically interesting thing is that he says he served it to himself with fava beans. It is fava bean season and I can’t imagine loving myself enough to prepare the beans for a solitary meal. I was hungry when I ordered them in the grocery delivery, hungry enough for my stomach and the stomach-allied part of my brain to say “Fava beans! Haven’t had those in a while!” before the part of my brain that was responsible for my not having bought fava beans in a while could recall why that was and overpower the first message.
My stomach ordered four pounds of them. Four bags of immense, fuzzy, bulky bean pods filled up the whole top of the fridge, caving in the foil on top of the rice cooker inset because there was nowhere else for them, and stayed there for 50-some hours while the non-stomach parts of the brain refused to deal with them. Finally I got hungry enough and had a free hour or two, and I got to work on them.
Fava bean season is also sugar snap pea season. When you buy sugar snap peas, you rinse them off, and you twist off the pointy ends and the strings, and the vegetables are done—crisp, sweet, nutritious spring vegetables. Peeling the strings off the fava beans may not even get you through step one of the fava-bean process. The bean pod may or may not open, and if not you have to twist it and rip it open. Then you dig out each individual bean, and you pick off the little lump where the bean was attached to the pod, and you drop the beans in a bowl, and then there’s a looming fuzzy pile of the bean pods you haven’t even touched, looking entirely undiminished.
Eventually—through the kind of tedium where time itself becomes one pale and featureless mass of thick, soft bean-pod skin—you end up with a bowl full of little whitish-green beans. Now it’s almost time to get started! First you pour boiling water over the beans to scald them, then you fish them out one by one, nick the surface of each one with a thumbnail, and squeeze it over another bowl, so that the bright green inner bean pops out of its skin. Try not to shoot the bean in the wrong direction.
When you’ve gone through every single bean, you can do the actual cooking. I put some olive oil in a pan, sauteed the beans for a little while, salted them, dumped them out in a bowl, and squeezed some lemon juice over them followed by a drizzle of the good olive oil. They were excellent: tender, but still with a little snap when bitten into, their fresh green flavor ending in a smooth and gentle bitterness. Three out of four people at the table liked them. It was an ideal taste of spring. Maybe I’ll do it again in 2022.