Fava is a robust herbaceous plant that can grow up to 1 metre high. The fruit contains seeds, which are oval and flattened in shape and have a thick skin. It is an annual plant with white flowers, whose pods, which contain the seeds, are green and then turn black with ripening. The bean is both the name of a plant, which is grown for its seeds, and the name of its seeds, which are eaten fresh or dried.
It seems to have been cultivated since the Neolithic period, which is the prehistoric period during which agriculture developed. Originally a food from the Middle East, bean cultivation then spread to Europe, Africa and the East. The bean is eaten as an aperitif during the month of March; this is the peak season for tasting the bean in April, May, June and July.
When choosing dried beans, care must be taken to ensure that they are uniformly grey in colour and not shiny, as this could mean that they are old beans that have been passed through glycerine. They should be medium in size, hard and not wrinkled. The fresh bean can be eaten raw, but in this case its thick skin must be removed. It is then said to be eaten in the Corsican or Provençal style. The broad bean, which is a small bean, is eaten particularly in this way. Green beans are eaten "croque-au-sel", that is to say raw, accompanied by salt and sometimes butter. When ripe, they are cooked quickly in boiling water, after removing the white film covering them, and then cooled with ice water.
The dried beans must be left to soak in water for twelve hours before cooking.
The fava beans are traditionally prepared as a purée. It is also delicious in soups and stews, either whole or pureed. In Spain, it is used to prepare "fabada", which is a kind of cassoulet. It was also used, before the bean, to prepare cassoulet in France.