Labors of Love

Dip into rustic finger food with fava beans and fried morels.

By Hanna Neuschwander March 16, 2010 Published in the April 2010 issue of Portland Monthly

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SPRING’S arrival, though exhilarating, comes with a catch: all of winter’s hidden catastrophes are suddenly illuminated by the unsympathetic glare of sunlight—the overgrown garden, the crowded garage, that forgotten and for-boding nook behind the toilet. But (thank you, vitamin D!), we also have newfound energy coursing through our veins to conquer these little disasters. And with effort comes reward: while the regimens of the season occupy our hands, our minds are free to roam.

Nothing embodies the meditative rewards of spring’s labors quite like the fava bean. “It’s wonderful to sit and squeeze fava beans from their shells, letting your mind wander,” says Kevin Gibson, chef at Evoe, Pastaworks’ gourmet lunch counter on SE Hawthorne Boulevard. “You can reflect on what’s next—it gives you time to be creative.”

This kind of contemplative labor is at the heart of Gibson’s quiet, deliberate approach to food. His recipe for fried morel mushrooms with fava bean purée is no exception: each element plays a role, but work is required on your part. It was Gibson’s Iowan grandmother who inspired the dish, and it certainly bears her imprint: “A friend used to bring baskets of morels to her,” he recalls. “She fried them in saltines.” Gibson adds a layer of subtlety to that classic Midwestern simplicity with the mellow, buttery flavor of brioche, which allows the brightly flavored, colorful fava bean dip to take center stage.

Don’t be intimidated by this dish—instead, take the time to painstakingly shuck the beans, linger over a perfect mushroom, squeeze the last of winter’s lemons, and enjoy the season’s quiet rewards. The labor should be just as savory as each finger-lickin’ bite.

Fried Morels with Fava Bean Purée

  • 1 lb fava beans
  • 2–3 tbsp olive oil
  • 1–2 tsp Meyer lemon juice
  • Salt and pepper
  • 20–30 medium morels
  • 2 eggs
  • 1–2 thick slices of stale brioche (or dry out fresh brioche in a 200-degree oven heat 15 minutes on each side)
  • 4 cups canola oil

Fava Bean Purée

(1) Unzip pods and remove the beans. 
(2) Blanch beans in boiling water for 2–3 minutes, remove with a slotted spoon, and immerse in ice bath. 
(3) Remove shell from each bean by pinching the end and squeezing (be patient, this part takes time). 
(4) Purée strained beans in a food processor, adding olive oil, salt, pepper, and lemon juice to taste.
(5) Transfer to a bowl and drizzle lightly with high-quality olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper.

Fried Morels

(1) Pulverize brioche in a food processor until it’s the texture of sand (makes about 1 cup). 
(2) Cut the smooth bottoms off the morels and chop lengthwise in half. 
(3) Beat 2 eggs together with a tablespoon of cool water and a pinch of salt and dip mushrooms in egg/water mixture. 
(4) Coat mushrooms evenly with brioche crumbs. 
(5) Pour enough canola oil into a heavy-bottomed pan to completely cover the mushrooms (about 2 inches) and heat oil to 350 degrees (use a candy thermometer to track temperature). 
(6) Immerse a portion of the mushrooms in oil for about a minute, until golden brown. 
(7) Remove and repeat until all mushrooms are fried (you may need to allow the oil to come back up to temperature between each batch). 
(8) Place mushrooms on a paper towel to drip, add salt, and serve hot.

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