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Fresh favas a favorite, served with spring peas

Though they freeze well, peas are at their best during spring, pulled straight from the pod. At this time of year in my restaurants, shelling peas is almost a full-time job.

Favas have been around for longer than any other bean we know of today. And like many now-revered Italian ingredients, the fava bean was used in peasant cooking for centuries. Recipes for fava or broad beans have appeared in every canonical Italian cookbook, and the preparations are diverse: in pod and without, pureed and sauteed.

Fresh, young fava beans are especially delicious served raw from their pods, with a sharp young cheese.

The key is not to mess with the natural freshness of the pea. In this recipe, I saute the peas and beans lightly with olive oil and onions; then I combine them with new potatoes and season with fresh herbs.

Peas are one of the best crops for a home garden. The vines can also be eaten and the tips steamed or sauteed. Some peas are grown to be eaten fresh, like English peas or piselli novelli. Fresh peas have a crunch and crisp, bright flavor heightened only by the physical act of removing the pod from the ground.

> Favas and sugar snap peas with potatoes and tarragon

4 pounds fresh fava beans in the pod, shelled and peeled to yield 2 cups favas

2 pounds fresh sugar snap peas, strings removed

1 red onion, thinly sliced

1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

4 new potatoes, peeled and very thinly sliced

2 tablespoons fresh tarragon leaves

2 tablespoons fresh marjoram

In a 14-inch skillet, combine the fava beans, sugar snap peas, onions, olive oil and 3/4 cup hot water. Cook over medium-high heat, stirring regularly, until the beans and peas are bright green and still crisp, 5 to 7 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Add the sliced potatoes and cook for another 5 minutes. Add more salt and pepper as needed, cook for an additional 5 minutes, and remove from the heat. Add the herbs, stir thoroughly and serve.

Note: If the fava beans are young and tender, there is no need to peel them. If not, blanch the beans in a medium pot of boiling salted water for 30 seconds, just to loosen the skins. Drain, transfer to an ice bath to cool, and drain again. To peel the favas, pinch open the skin at one end of each bean and squeeze out the bean.

Serves 8 to 10 as a side dish.

Recipe courtesy of "Molto Batali" (ecco, 2011)