Fave Fresche, Finocchi e Piselli Brasate al "Latte" - Fresh Fava Beans, Fennel, and Peas Braised in "Milk" (gluten free, vegan, ACD)

Like my Italian? I don't get to use it very often.

This was amazing.  It was inspired by a recipe for Fave Fresche Brasate al Latte (Broad Beans Braised in Milk) in the River Cafe Cook Book Green, one of my favorite cookbooks. The River Cafe is a restaurant in London that serves country-style Italian food using local, seasonal ingredients of the highest quality, traditional, rustic cooking methods, and simple presentation.  It was started by two women, Rose Grey and Ruth Rogers, and their story is wonderful and inspiring.  Look it up on The River Cafe site.  They have a number of cookbooks, of which I am now the proud owner of two: The Cafe Cookbook and River Cafe Cookbook Green. I fell in love with these cookbooks while housesitting for a coworker periodically over the last couple years.  His wife is a food stylist and they are both total foodies, so naturally, they have an extensive cookbook collection.  Each time I'm there I study new cookbooks and read them like novels; last time I found a bunch of Donna Hay cookbooks that I had never seen before, and freaked out.  However, no matter how many new cookbooks I discovered each time I housesat,  I would always find myself inevitably retreating to the enticing River Cafe cookbooks.  

One day at work, I was overcome by a totally random and incredibly strong urge to order these books. I found used copies on Amazon for an amazing price - less than $10 each for hardcover books in excellent condition, imported right from England - and promptly purchased them.  Shortly after receiving my cookbooks, I found out that Rose had just passed away, finally succumbing to her brave battle with cancer.  I was heartbroken!  Upon researching this news further, I realized that the day I impulsively ordered these books online also happened to be the exact day that she died. Bizarre.

I think Rose was sending me a message.

I've been reading them obsessively since, studying the flavor combinations and techniques and making many of the recipes.  It gives me excellent practice on cooking with the metric system and provides incredible inspiration. I love Green especially - it highlights seasonal ingredients for each month of the year, and is a wonderful culinary journey through the seasons.  One thing that surprised me about the recipes is that much of real, home-style Italian food is actually fairly allergy-friendly.  It relies heavily on fresh produce, and many recipes do not use dairy, eggs, or even gluten. Certainly, there are many recipes that do, but many recipes that don't.  And even recipes I can't eat as-is serve as amazing inspiration for adaptations, right?

Reading these cookbooks makes me yearn for the Mediterranean. I want olives and capers and lemons and fresh flavors. I want wood-fired vegetables, I want garlic, I want olive oil. I want high-quality meats. I want good food, prepared fresh and shared with loved ones and laughter.  I want to do right by Rose and celebrate her legacy as a champion of incredible real food.  I also want a vacation; my gypsy soul wants an adventure.  Voglio viaggiare per Italia (I want to travel to Italy)!  

Sadly, a giro d'Italia (tour of Italy) is nowhere in my near future.  My only option is to indulge my wanderlust culinarily.   Hey, if you can't take a real vacation, you might as well take a daydream one while doing daily tasks like cooking, right?  Pick anywhere - France, Germany, Japan, Thailand, wherever.  Get inspired by the cuisine of that culture, name your dish in the native tongue, and really get into the spirit of it while cooking.  Seriously, try it some time.  Cultivate your imagination, play pretend, and have some fun. 

This is my latest vacation food, and it tastes damn good, like I imagine Italy tastes in the springtime.  Fresh fava beans, peas, fennel, mint, and a lot of garlic - how can you go wrong?  These foods were made for each other, especially with the added richness of braising everything in "milk". I used SoDelicious coconut milk beverage, but you could use any other unsweetened, unflavored milk you'd like - it would be very good with homemade nut or seed milks.  Once you have your fresh fava beans prepared (a rather time intensive process, but worth it), the rest of this dish is really quick and very simple, and incredibly flavorful. Serve as is, over cooked grains or pasta, or spooned over your favorite gluten free bread, like bruschetta (which, for the record, is properly pronounced brew-skate-tah).  

While I was cooking, I imagined myself back in Italy, happily wandering narrow streets, buying cheap pashminas, snapping photos with my dad's old 35mm camera, and drinking lots and lots of espresso. I pretended I was cooking dinner with an old Italian nonna (grandmother) on a well-worn terrazzo floor, getting it ready to serve to her wildly attractive and single grandson. Ah, Italy.  

This dream was much more appealing than the reality of cooking dinner alone in my messy apartment after a mediocre day at work with a searing headache.  But you know, by the time dinner was ready, I felt better. Amazing what a little creative stimulation can do, right?  Fantastico!  Sometimes you just need to buck up and cook yourself a good dinner to improve the day.

As a final note, just so you can tell your friends and family what they are eating when you serve it, here is a phonetic pronunciation of the Italian name of this dish (the accented syllable of each word is in bold):

Fah-vay fres-kay, fin-oak-kee, eh pee-zell-lee brah-sah-tay ahl lot-tay
Fave       fresche,  finocchi,       e   piselli          brasate             al      latte

Sound it out slowly and practice while you peel those fava beans (you'll have plenty of time to practice...).  By the time you are ready to serve the finished dish to your guests, you will be able say it with confidence.  You'll blow 'em out of the water!  :)

Okay, mangiamo (let's eat)!  Buono apetito!

Fave Fresche, Finocchi e Piselli Brasate al "Latte" 
(Fresh Fava Beans, Fennel, and Peas Braised in Milk) 

Serve alone, over cooked grains, pasta, zucchini noodles, or spaghetti squash, or spooned on a slice of your favorite gluten free bread, like bruschetta.  Delicious warm, but also very tasty chilled.  

3/4-1 cup shelled fava beans (1 1/2-2 pounds fresh fava bean pods)
1 large fennel bulb, finely chopped
1/2 cup frozen or fresh peas
6 large garlic cloves, peeled and coarsely chopped
1 cup unsweetened, plain, non-dairy milk of choice (or dairy milk if it works for you)
1-2 Tbsp olive oil
2 Tbsp minced fennel fronds (cut from the fennel bulb stalks)
2 Tbsp minced fresh mint leaves
1/4 tsp vitamin C crystals (or 1 Tbsp lemon juice)
optional: lemon zest (if you tolerate lemon, this would be incredible)
sea salt
freshly cracked pepper

Prepare your fava beans. Shell them, blanch them, then peel them.  For a step-by-step how-to, check this out

Heat olive oil in a large saute pan over medium-low heat, then add garlic.  Saute for 2-3 minutes, add fennel, saute 2-4 minutes, then add prepared beans, peas, and milk.  Cover and let braise about 10 minutes, until most milk absorbed and vegetables are tender.  Remove cover and season with salt, pepper, herbs, vitamin C crystals/lemon, and lemon zest. Remove from heat.  

Serve alone, over cooked grains, spaghetti squash, or pasta, or over slices of your favorite gluten-free bread.  Delicious warm, but also very good chilled.