Fresh favas, gnocchi, and ricotta

Yesterday was one of those days that went from okay to great to amusingly weird to annoying and back to okay again.

Okay, I suppose lots of days can be like that.

I was teaching my usual Tuesday orientation at work, kicking serious ass and touching serious nerves in my brief history of American farming from 1945 to the present when… the lights went out at work.

Now, I work in a big place. It’s like a spaceship. We have more employees than some small towns. And yet, amid placid murmurings in the hallway of brownouts and backup generators, the power stayed out. For two hours.

Priorities shifted. I had to cut short my rhapsodizing on cover crops and horticultural light oils, to say nothing of the store tour, to say absolutely nothing of the post-tour cookies. I barked a mandatory OSHA presentation to my group on the noisy mezzanine, where there was daylight, at least, with the limited battery power left on my laptop. It was like Dilbert at the Apocalypse.

Some minutes after my group left in pitch blackness, armed at least with aprons and schedules (but lacking entirely in knowledge of mop sinks and confined spaces), the power returned. I retreated to my office and did whatever simple busywork remained, too addled to do anything of consequence.

I’m not sure if you can tell, but I am highly uncomfortable when things do not go according to my (obviously perfect, infallible) plans.

So I finished my work and went downstairs in search of comfort (food). Though order had been restored to my life, I was utterly without patience. Dinner last night = veggie tacos.

Before any of the cilantro and onion and lime and red pepper and avocado, however – in fact, right as I grabbed a basket – I saw a basket of fava beans in their shells. I knew that I had had fava beans before, but not only had I failed to remember what they tasted like, the only thing I could associate with them at that moment was Anthony Hopkins as Hannibal Lechter talking about fava beans and Chianti and brains and being super gross.

And yet. Cannibalism aside: I desired them.

I selected six firmish pods and went in search of cilantro. I didn’t know what I’d do with the fava beans, and by the time I had found my El Milagro corn tortillas, I had pretty much forgotten about them altogether. The sensation of grocery-store-impulse-amnesia was remarkable; it was the same feeling you get when you’ve picked out some kind of ice cream novelty item or something out of desperate haste for a lovely treat you’ve decided you deserve. Except my ice cream novelty was… beans.

But no matter. Today came around, and after a solid 8 hours of active, weird, mostly wonderful dreaming and my favorite workday breakfast, it was an active, weird, and mostly wonderful day at work. Throughout the day, I bounced the fava beans around in my head, but since I couldn’t remember their taste (only brains and Chianti), I had to call in reinforcements.

I searched “fava beans” on Epicurious. The third recipe down looked lovely, and comforting, and like it could involve a respectable pat of butter in a saute pan. (I’ve reunited with butter on certain occasions, inspired, mostly, by my recent acquisition of the most delightful book about cooking and gardening ever. Jamie Oliver enjoys excellent produce and cooking it simply. Often, this means sauteing in butter. Excellent.)

However, the recipe was also trying to tell me that it was appropriate to be making homemade ricotta gnocchi on a Wednesday night. This was asking entirely too much. (There is also a mention of boiling your leek, which I simply won’t abide.)

No no. My methods would be simple. My ingredient list would be simple.

Chanting: “Leek, sage, gnocchi, ricotta. Leek, sage, gnocchi, ricotta.”

My mantra and I went downstairs and sailed through the store. I rode home in the almost-storm and made it inside before the fat drops began to fall. I took off my shoes and my jeans (summer policy in my apartment dictates pantslessness for a full 10 minutes before any further activity and/or re-clothing can occur) and turned on a Dr. John album.

The music reminded me of the vacation to New Orleans that Danny and I have one or two times idly imagined. The rain, viewed among neighbor buildings and surprisingly calm clouds through my big window from my just-slightly-wider-than-a-galley kitchen, reminded me of all the times I used to mock, or celebrate, the weather and the rest of the world by cooking something cool and then writing about it.

It’s obvious that things are different now. The food blog of yore was my rabbit hole – a way to be the person I wanted to be, and actually kind of was, in spite of a work life and non-work life I felt hesitant to let define me. It kept me off the streets, out of bars, away from work, away from bad dates and toxic people – and in the kitchen, either alone or with good people. It defined me quite tidily, and I liked it.

Now, I have a work life I’m proud of and excited about. I have a non-work life that’s positive, that I love and find worthy of focused cultivation. This life also involves a lot of kebob-grilling and taco-esque concocting with a lovely, funny, caring dude – somewhat repetitious (but no less delicious, of course) cooking done in the context of a relationship I still believe should stay relatively protected and private. I still care about good food, but I care less about proving to myself and everyone else that I can make it and live to tell the tale. Now I have a few things that define me, not just one, and I’m still – after the handful of months of blog-delinquency – pleasantly surprised at how much I actually kinda like it.

So I have a conversation at Pork of July (no seriously) with Danny’s friend about this blog. He enjoyed the writing and the stories. He encourages me to pick it back up. I explain my dilemma. He understands. I tell him to fix it for me. He tells me he can’t find my voice for me. Hmph. I know this, and I know this is the actual challenge.

And I have a conversation last night with Kristy about the same thing. And about the guilt I feel, and about the distinct creative desire to write, and about the vague motivation that only sometimes stirs me somewhere. She tells me it will come back, and I announce I will let it rest. Which is a big deal for me.

So tonight. Dr. John. Fava beans. I peel down the soft spine on the side of the shell to crack it all open, and to my surprise, find these little beans couched in a gauzy inner coat. The beans themselves look like big, pretty, pale lima beans. I drop them into some boiling water for a couple of minutes, then into an ice bath. I pop them out of their shells into a pan, already sizzling softly with leeks, sage, white pepper, olive oil, and yes, butter. The gnocchi go into the pot, cook for another couple of minutes, and join the beans & leeks & sage in the pan.

It’s all tossed. It’s all sprinkled with more white pepper and some salt. It’s crowned with ricotta.

It is… really delicious. The leeks have been thoroughly caramelized, and the fava beans taste, well, a bit like lima beans in their soft starchiness, but the flavor is much nicer – sweeter. And it’s all really beautiful. (I love a well-edited food color scheme.) It’s completely something that I would make for a kinda-special occasion. Or, for a super special occasion, I would make the gnocchi and the ricotta myself (but NOT ricotta gnocchi, thankyouverymuch. I like to taste my cheese).

So it’s a successful night. Dinner was glorious, and this post somehow managed to just kind of write itself. It feels like what it used to feel like. I don’t know what this means (hopefully, obviously, it means that the flow is back and this will be happening more often), but I hope you enjoyed it. I’ve missed doing this, and I’ve missed knowing that at least a couple of people read it and maybe kinda like it. See you soon.


  1. Really enjoy your entries. You have a unique and amusing way to write about food. You definitely need to follow your friend's advice to write more often.

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