Pasta con fave, pecorino, e guanciale

Happy May everyone! This past Monday here in Rome we celebrated il primo maggio (May 1st) otherwise known as La Festa dei Lavoratori (Labor Day). I'm happy to report that I did not have to go to work (a nice surprise, as FAO doesn't usually respect Italian holidays) and thus spent the day vigorously not working. I slept in until 11:00, treated myself to a cappuccino and cornetto around noon, and then made my way home after a leisurely walk around the neighborhood to whip up today's recipe (turns out doing nothing really works up an appetite). 

Enjoying the day off isn't the only May 1st tradition, at least here in Rome -- customarily, Romans kick off the month with a picnic of fresh fava beans paired with Pecorino cheese, a snack that is both portable and seasonal, the mild, buttery beans complimenting the sharp saltiness of the cheese quite nicely (a little white wine on the side doesn't hurt either). Fava beans aren't exactly new to Roman cuisine, having also been a staple food of the ancient Romans (I know, I know -- did anything they do not stand the test of time?!) A little research taught me that for the antichi romani, fave symbolized new life and also played a role in certain ancient Roman holidays and festivals. As Italian food writer and historian Pellegrino Artusi writes "In the Lemural festivals, ancient Romans spat fava beans [in the house] while at the same time beating a copper vase, in order drive out any malevolent ancestral spirits and deities of the Underworld." To each their own, I suppose.

But back to the present and today's recipe! While I find the combination of fave and Pecorino nearly perfect, most everything, I've learned, is improved by the addition of pork, and, while we're at it, pasta. Thus this pasta with fave, pecorino, e guanciale was born, a dish that preserves the classic primo maggio flavors while also transforming them in to a complete dish, a luxurious meal rather than a simple snack. So, the rest of the first day of May went like this for me: rigatoni dressed up with a cheese-y, peppery, sauce, salty, rich guanciale, and bright, Spring-y fave, whose mild, fresh flavor tempers the richness of the Pecorino and pork nicely. This is cacio e pepe meets gricia, Springtime edition, and a dish so good, it will make you forget any fava bean/Hannibal Lecter references that have been haunting you since you saw Silence of the Lambs. Bonus: the emerald green fave make this dish a stunner, too.

Notes on fava beans: Be sure to get fava beans with pods that are bright green, smooth, and unwithered -- pods that seem a bit wrinkled or are bulging are pods with older beans, which can be incredibly bitter (I speak from experience). Note that fava beans also go by the name broad beans, in case you see them called that way in your supermarket. The cleaning and cooking process for the beans might seem a little involved, but trust me, none of it is difficult and it can all be done very quickly. Cooked fave are also great mashed with some lemon juice, a tiny bit of garlic, salt, and pepper, and spread on bread to make a crostini topping, tossed with pasta to make an easy, no-cook, fave sauce, used in salads or Spring soups, or used in a veggie dip. 

Notes on the dish: If you can't get your hands on guanciale, pancetta would also work fine here -- bacon might work in a pinch, but the flavor is quite strong and I think it could overwhelm the dish. If you're not aiming to preserve the classical 1 maggio flavors here, you could use Parmesan in place of the Pecorino, or peas instead of the fava beans. Use the finest grate on your cheese grater for the cheese so it melts nicely in to the sauce (I used my Microplaner). I opted for gigantoni (large rigatoni) here but any pasta you like will do. Don't underestimate the power of freshly ground black pepper in this dish -- it really ties the whole thing together and gives it a little kick. Finally, the recipe below serves 2-3 as I made this for my sister and I, so feel free to up the quantities accordingly if you're feeding a bigger group. 

Want other Pecorino-y pasta recipes? I've got cacio e pepe, gricia, and amatriciana (coming soon to complete collection: spaghetti alla carbonara) plus this pasta with garlicky greens. Looking for more Spring-y recipes? I've got Asparagus with Prosciutto, a Torta Pasqualina, these Carciofi alla giudia, and for something sweet, Carrot Cake, Strawberry Cake, Lemon Squares, and Lemon Tart, to name just a few.

PASTA CON FAVE, PECORINO, E GUANCIALE

Ingredients:
1 1/3 cups (160 grams) fava beans, from about 25 pods
1/2 cup (30 grams) freshly grated Pecorino cheese 
4 ounces (100 grams) guanciale
About 1/2 pound (400 grams to be precise) pasta of your choice

Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Extra Pecorino, for serving

Directions:
Start with your fava beans. Put a pot of water on to boil. Using a knife, cut each pod open (there is a kind of natural seam on each pod that you can cut along to do this most easily) and remove the beans. When all of the beans are pod-free, place them in the boiling water for 1 minute, then use a slotted spoon to remove them to a plate to cool. Keep the water boiling so you can use it for your pasta after. 
 
When the beans are cool enough to handle (after a few minutes) remove their outer tougher skin (this should happen quite easily now that you've blanched them) and discard the skin, setting aside your beautiful green and newly shelled fava beans.
Once the fava beans are shelled, get your guanciale going. Place the guanciale in a large skillet over medium-low heat and cook, stirring occasionally, until crisp. Use a slotted spoon to remove the guanciale (you can put it in the same dish as your favas) and pour out any excess grease.
While the guanciale is cooking, you can add your pasta to the already boiling water from the fava beans (remember to salt it well). Cook the pasta according to the package cooking time (in my case, 15 minutes). Before draining the pasta, reserve a ladle-ful of the starchy pasta water.
 
Add the drained pasta to the skillet along with the guanciale, fava beans, Pecorino cheese, and a bit of pasta water (I started with about 1/3 of a cup of water, and add a little more if necessary). 
 
Toss everything together vigorously over very low heat until the cheese melts and a nice, creamy sauce forms (just like we did here). Season with a pinch or two of salt and lots of freshly ground black pepper, toss again, and serve immediately. Serves 2 generously. 
 



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