by Malcolm Jolley

Pity the poor Canadian cookbook addict caught between his old English imperial masters and his new American ones. How could he know that what one calls fava beans, the other call broad beans? It took me many, many years to figure out that what Elizabeth David* called broad, Alice Waters called fava. And that was only after I’d fallen in love with both.

Late spring to mid-July is the fava bean season in this corner of North America, and my house has begun the ritual of double shelling them at least once a weekend, if not more. Like shucking corn, or shelling peas (they’re around now, too), the labour of preparing the beans only adds to their flavour. I find I get through a lot more pods when refreshed by a large glass of cold rosé, by the way. The deal, as all fava bean lovers know, is that the things need to be taken out of their pods, quickly par-boiled (unless they’re tiny, baby ones, but I’ve not seen those in the markets, anyway) and ‘skinned’. Then cooked quickly again.

The River Café ladies (RIP Rose Gray) have such a simple recipe in one of their ‘Easy’ cookbooks (which are worthy of Elizabeth David in their brevity and respect for the reader), that I am tempted to reprint in violation of copyright, except I believe if I describe it myself I’ll top their word count. So here goes:

  • Grill some bread and rub with half a garlic clove in the traditional bruschetta way;
  • Gently boil prepared (skinned) fava beans as above;
  • Drizzle bread with good (by which I mean the best you can reasonably afford) olive oil;
  • Add the beans, torn mint leaves; and
  • Grated pecorino, Parmesan, ricotta salata or some other kind of salty hard cheese; and/or
  • Whatever else you like: it’s just beans on toast!

Serve with refreshments, preferably outside.

*There is a relatively secret Elizabeth David ‘pop-up’ dinner being organised in Toronto in June. Email me at, if you’re interested in it.

Malcolm Jolley is a founding editor of Good Food Revolution and Executive Director of Good Food Media, the non-profit organization that publishes GFR. Photo: John Gundy.