You know that you can cook dried pasta as if it were risotto, don’t you? Just sweat a chopped shallot in butter or olive oil, “sauté” the pasta for a minute, deglaze once or twice with white wine (optional) and then add a light-but-nicely seasoned stock, a ladleful at a time, stirring regularly until the pasta is done.
Other ingredients, of course, go in at whatever stage they need to, depending on how long they need to cook. It takes more attention than just boiling spaghetti, but on the other hand, the process generates its own sauce (lightly thickened by the pasta’s starch) and the pasta absorbs flavors as it cooks.
A few months ago, Jackie and I came across the darlingest little pasta shape — farfalline, these particular ones made by the Italian company, Garofalo. They’re pretty miniature bowties, really tiny and paper thin, that feel good in your mouth when you shovel in a big spoonful of them. Perfect, too, for treating like a risotto.
I’d been thinking about making this with “baby” artichokes, some quartered and cooked with the pasta, a few shaved thin and added raw at the end, and finishing the dish with blobs of ricotta, an idea ripped off from a meal I had more than a decade ago in an Alain Ducasse restaurant. (Ducasse is a proponent of this method, though not its inventor.)
The key was getting excellent local artichokes, and this did not happen. The one vendor in our farmers market who grows them had only a few tiny, tattered specimens left by the time I got out of the house. There were, however, gorgeous green beans and some slightly-overgrown-but-still-plausible favas, plus the most aromatic herbs, so a new dish began to materialize.
Well, “new” may be a stretch for pasta with beans, so let’s say that a different dish began to materialize. Simpler too, which is always a plus. I’d cook the little bowties a la risotto, using diluted chicken stock scented with dill and tarragon (my new favorite combination) until they were not quite done, adding cut-up green beans and then skinned favas and stirring until everything was just right. The cooking method would create a nice little sauce, which I’d enhance with butter and lots more herbs.
And that’s just what I did. The only part that some might find tedious was preparing the favas. Once you’ve got them out of their pods, where they nestle in a curious furry lining, you have the leathery skin to deal with. Or not: Lots of people cook them in their skins, which takes a long time and yields chewier, funkier-tasting favas that are not universally popular and that wouldn’t be appropriate for a delicate dish like this one.
Once you get the skin off, however, you have a bright springtime-green bean that takes no time to cook and has a fresh (but distinctive) flavor. The way to do this is to blanch the shelled favas for a half minute in boiling water and then chill them in a bowl of cold water. Use your thumbnail to pierce the skin at the smooth end (opposite where it attaches to the pod), then squeeze to pop out the inner bean. This is fun, unless you have 10 pounds of beans to process. These will take only a minute or two to cook, so add them after the green beans, which will take two or three minutes (or more, depending on the beans and how al dente you like them).
When you serve this sort of risotto-like pasta, be sure to give everybody some of the sauce from the bottom of the pan; if you run out, spoon a little of the hot stock over each portion.
This will work with all manner of beans or other summer vegetables, of course (zucchini come to mind and young carrots) and certainly with all manner of herbs. But the combination of tarragon and dill really tickles my fancy: The “sweetness” of the tarragon is balanced by the slightly pungent, almost carawaylike flavor of the dill — perfect with vegetables of all kinds.