Salad for Dinner

August, 2011 Monthly archive

I’ve been saving up this recipe for a month now, as I prepared to launch this blog. It’s taken me numerous false starts over many months to get here, but I was officially inspired to do something about it when my friend Julie started her own food blog, which I’ve adored. There may not be any favas left in the market this season, but they do exist right now in my mother’s garden in the San Francisco suburbs.

I helped her plant the garden in April. We worried first that the seeds had been washed away by harsh late spring rains. Then the youngsters suffered almost a week of warm weather with no water at all. We were convinced that they wouldn’t survive. But survive they did, and thrive even. Perhaps it’s the new soil. Or maybe the

The past few months have brought erratic weather to San Francisco. A week of 80-degree days in January, a rainy Memorial Day weekend, and many a fog-soaked spring morning. Yet spring vegetables were right on schedule, with fava beans, shelling peas, green garlic, and asparagus flooding the farmer’s markets in May. My sister first riffed on using favas as a base for pesto last spring, and I was inspired again when they appeared for $1/lb. at the Alemany farmer’s market in May.

fava beans before and after shelling

Favas are a slippery legume that take some work to prepare. Honestly, they’re probably best made when you have an army of small children to help you shell. See, first you must shell the beans, then quickly boil them, then shell again to get to the creamy bean on the inside. But oh, is the time ever worth the reward. Especially when there’s a reward like this pesto waiting.

They’re best on a lazy Sunday afternoon, while evenings lengthen from spring to summer. We don’t have many wraparound porches and warm early summer evenings in San Francisco, but if we did, I’d spend my porch-sitting time shelling favas.

Fava bean, roasted garlic, and toasted walnut pesto

I’ve played with this recipe several times, and it turns out a little differently every time. I use the itty-bitty Cuisinart attachment for my stick blender to bring all the pieces together since I lack a real food processor. This gives my pesto a more rustic texture. Blending it more in your larger food processor of choice will produce a smoother, creamier sauce. I’ve used goat cheese here, but you could also use creme fraiche, mascarpone, or even ricotta if that’s what you happen to have in the fridge.

For the fava pesto:

  • 2 lbs fava beans
  • 2 oz. goat cheese
  • 1 head of garlic, roasted
  • 1 cup walnuts
  • 3 tbsp. olive oil
  • 3 tbsp. roasted walnut oil
  • Salt to taste
  • 1/2 lb. spaghetti
  • 1 tbsp. butter

Prep the favas

Bring a pot of salted water to a boil. Remove favas from outer shell while water is coming to a boil. Dunk fava beans into the boiling water for 2-3 minutes, drain, and immediately dump them into an ice bath to stop the cooking. You don’t want to overcook them here. Slip the favas from their inner skins. This can be done either with the aid of fingernails or a paring knife. Ideally they will emerge from the water and their inner skins with a brilliant green hue. Reserve 1/2 cup of favas for garnish, and add the rest to the pesto.

Meanwhile, bring another pot of salted water to a boil for the spaghetti. Cook pasta until it’s al dente.

Make the pesto

Combine shelled and peeled favas in food processor with goat cheese, roasted garlic (I chop the top off the garlic, wrap it in foil, add a spot of olive oil, and pop it in the toaster oven for 40 minutes or so at 400 degrees), oils, 1/3 cup of the walnuts, and salt. Process until mostly smooth.

Toast remaining walnuts, either in a pan on the stovetop, or a tray in the toaster oven.

Put it all together

Combine cooked pasta, 1 tbsp butter, pesto, toasted walnuts, and reserved favas, and combine.

Or, use your fava pesto as a delicious spread for sandwiches, toast, or crackers. It’ll keep for up to a week or so in the fridge.

Read More

Every gardener knows that a surplus inevitably results from even one zucchini plant. Heat and humidity saturate the July air in much of the country. Not here in California. Fog slurps up any daytime heat and casts an evening chill, even in the depth of summer. I always imagined that warmer climates were the only ones to produce county-fair-ribbon-worthy vegetables. That’s where I saw them growing up: at the California state fair, my grandparents’ house in Missouri.

Until this summer, when my mother and I planted a vegetable garden in her backyard. We dug out packets of seeds from the laundry room that must have been ten years old, from the last time she had a diverse garden. Chives, kale, spinach, carrots, peas, four types of lettuce, and zucchini. I think the zucchini seeds were oldest of all.

Seduced by the blank slate of fresh soil, we planted everything, packing seeds in tight rows. Those veggies faced tough conditions. First they went for a week without water. Then the April rain came down so hard we thought the seeds had washed away.

Eight pound zucchini


Now, months of not-too-hot-and-humid-weather later, the garden is brimming with vegetables. Especially zucchini. I don’t particularly care for zucchini, but when I brought home an eight-pound squash last week, we spent the week eating it disguised in many creative forms. The most creative, most consumptive way to use the surplus that we found was zucchini-zagna. Or maybe it’s zucchini-za? I think I’ve finally settled on zuke-zagna.



No-Noodle Zucchini Zuke-Zagna Lasagna


This is essentially a classic lasagna, but with zucchini instead of noodles. It’s gluten-free when made this way, and could be vegetarian if you just left out the meat and used something like mushrooms instead to beef up the tomato sauce (so to speak).


  • 1 lb. Italian sausage
  • 1 lb. ground beef
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 28 oz. tomato sauce (use a jar of plain pasta sauce, or make your own with 1 14 oz. can of crushed tomatoes, and one 14 oz. can of diced tomatoes)
  • ¼ cup red wine
  • ½ tsp. dried basil, or 4 fresh basil leaves
  • ½ tsp. oregano
  • ½ tsp. parsley
  • ½ tsp. salt
  • 2 lbs. zucchini, sliced thinly
  • 16 oz. ricotta
  • ¼ cup shredded parmasean cheese
  • 2 eggs
  • 12 oz shredded mozzarella


  1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
  2. Slice zucchini thinly and salt it. After 30-60 minutes, rinse thoroughly and pat dry with paper towels.
  3. Heat 2 tbsp. canola oil in a skillet on high heat. Add both meats and brown them until cooked through, stirring occasionally to brown evenly. Once meat is mostly cooked through, turn heat down to medium. Add onion and garlic and cook until onion is almost translucent.
  4. Add tomato sauce, wine, and herbs to meat and onion mixture, and simmer for 15 minutes on low. This is an ideal time to rinse and dry your zucchini slices and whip up the ricotta.
  5. Speaking of which, in a separate bowl, mix the ricotta with the eggs and grated parmasean cheese.
  6. Taste the sauce. Is it too acidic? Add some sugar! Not acidic enough? Add a splash of red wine vinegar. Not salty enough? DON’T ADD MORE SALT YET. The zukes will take care of that one.
  7. Assemble the pieces: Start with a layer of zucchini slices, then add a layer of ricotta mixture, then tomato-meat sauce, then the mozzarella. Repeat two more times.
  8. Bake for 40-45 minutes, until cheese is bubbling and starting to brown on top.
  9. Remove from oven, serve, and enjoy your surplus zukes.
Read More