I’m learning to love baking bread. I remember the first time I made my own bread four years ago, I was so pleased with the results that I swore I’d never buy bread ever again and would always make my own. After the revelatory first loaf, I didn’t make another for a year. The kneading and timing of the different rises was just too finicky for my slapdash cooking style. Since then, I’ve discovered no-knead bread and it’s changed my life. Gone are the days of cramped hands and not being able to eat fresh-out-of-the-oven bread at lunchtime. I just stir together some flour, water, and yeast before I go to bed, shape it again when I wake up, and bake for lunch. It’s amazing.
After I got the hang of no-knead bread, the next thing that I really wanted to conquer though was sourdough. I love the yeasty tang in sourdough bread (I love pretty much anything extra-zingy, really) and so I made a wild-yeast sourdough starter as per the instructions in The Bread Baker’s Apprentice, which is an amazing bread baking resource. I patiently fed the starter for a few weeks until it was ready, and then I substituted one cup of flour and one cup of water in the no-knead recipe with 1 cup from my puddle of sourdough starter. The bread rose- without yeast!- and the texture was good, but it wasn’t sour. I kept the sourdough starter alive for a few more months, but never got sour bread out of it, and so eventually I threw it away.
I decided that the best thing to do would be to buy someone else’s tried-and-true sourdough starter, so I got this. I’ve been feeding it for a couple weeks now, and finally it was big enough to pull a cup out for a loaf of no-knead sourdough bread.
The loaf was beautiful. There was decent crumb, the crust crisped up, and it rose enough without any yeast. But when I sliced into it and tried it, it was sour. I’m talking mouth-puckering, super-sharp sour. Obviously this new sourdough starter is the real deal, and the polar opposite of my previous bland attempt. One cup of this sourdough starter in a no-knead recipe is about twice as much as there should be. I’m worried it won’t rise enough, but I’ll be doing some experimenting soon. In the meantime, I had to find something to do with this extra-sour bread. The flavor would overwhelm any sandwich recipe, and I do like sour, so I wanted to find something that would work with the flavors instead of competing.
Yesterday I went to Whole Foods. I haven’t shopped there in months- all my veggies come from my local CSA, and I have a decent grocery store near me where I can get the basics, and Whole Foods is about half an hour away, so it’s a bit more driving than I usually like to do for groceries. However, I needed to stock up on some staples that my regular store doesn’t have- faro, different weird dried beans, amaranth, Israeli couscous. When I was there, I decided to just do a little browsing of the produce aisle. You know, just to take a look around. Of course this resulted in a handful of impulse buys- vegetables I had no idea what to do with and no plan for whatsoever, but that looked just so tempting that I had to try them. The first of these was fresh fava beans. I’ve never had them and never made them, but they were calling to me, so I bought them.
Fresh fava beans are kind of a pain. I learned this after I bought them. You have to pull the beans out of the shell, then you need to boil them for two minutes, then you need to shock them in ice water, and then you need to peel the skin off each individual bean before you can use them in a recipe. I dutifully shelled a bowl of beans, and tried one. It was delicious! Earthy, nutty, green, fresh– every flavor of summer in one al-dente bite.
The weather is turning here; it’s on the cusp of fall, teetering back and forth and unable to decide. My CSA gave me a box of heirloom cherry tomatoes this week, one of the last before summer is truly over. When I was eating my first fresh fava bean, I imagined popping a bright, sweet cherry tomato in my mouth with it; a good balance of earthy and sweet. I thought about making a salad with a bright, acidic vinaigrette and fresh greens, and then I realized I had something else I could use instead of vinegar– sourdough!
I grilled the sourdough with olive oil, so it was charred, smoky, sour and crunchy. The fava beans and tomatoes are tossed with flaked salt, fresh-ground pepper and garlic, a balance of sweet, salty, soft, crunchy, nutty and sweet. If you don’t have extra-sour sourdough, you might want to add a hint of vinegar with the beans and tomatoes. This would still be amazing in a salad, too, with hard-boiled eggs and croutons.
Fresh Fava Bean and Heirloom Cherry Tomato Bruschetta on Grilled Sourdough
1 lb fresh fava bean pods
1 cup diced heirloom cherry tomatoes
1 clove of garlic, finely chopped
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for brushing
1 tsp flaked sea salt
several twists of fresh-ground black pepper
4 thick slices of sourdough
Set a small pot of water on the stove to boil. Split the fava bean pods and pull out the beans and set aside. Prepare a bowl of ice water.
When the water is boiling, add the beans and boil for two minutes. Drain and blanch in ice water, let cool.
In the meantime, chop the cherry tomatoes into quarters and place in a bowl. Add the olive oil, garlic, salt, and pepper.
When the fava beans have cooled, carefully pull aside the skins and pop the beans out. Add the beans to the tomato mixture, stir well, and then mash with a fork a few times to let the flavors really mix together.
Heat up a cast-iron griddle on high and generously brush both sides of the sourdough with olive oil. Grill the sourdough for a couple minutes per side, until there are charred grill lines and the bread is warmed.
Pile a few tablespoons of the bean and tomato salad on top of the sourdough, and enjoy!