Springtime fava beans and pecorino.
I know it's really spring when I spot farmers at the market selling large, lumpy, bright green pods - fava beans, fave in Italian. In most regions Italians cook fava beans. I'm in love when someone makes me a labor-intensive, but delicious, braised vegetable stew, a Sicilian frittella or Roman vignarola. Both are culinary odes to spring, made of favas, with tender peas, artichokes, and spring onions (scallions). Shelling peas and fava beans and cleaning artichokes isn't my idea of fun, but if you've got someone to share the workload, check out Anna Tasca Lanza's cookbook The Heart of Sicily for a recipe.
The Tuscans have a different approach, of course. They call fava beans baccelli and eat them raw. A basket or plate of these beans is served with a wedge of pecorino toscano. This cheese is better fresh (just over two weeks old, when its center is still soft) and best in spring when the sheep graze on new grass.
There are no rules for eating this combination, pecorino e baccelli. Well, only that fava beans must be young, very fresh, and tender, otherwise diners must remove the outer skin of the bean as well as the pod - not a lot of fun. Some diners shuck all the beans at once, and then alternate bites of pecorino with beans. Others take a more random approach. The contrast between the creamy, fresh pecorino and the sweet, green, vegetal favas is a true winner, unmistakably a bit of springtime!
-June 2, 1998