We all have memories of a childhood friends’ mom who cooked really well. One such person for me was my friend Pilar’s mother. She was a great cook and a wonderful and warm woman. I always felt welcome in her home, despite being 50% responsible for waking Pilar’s father from his siesta on more than one occasion. I was supposed to be help Pilar with her English during siesta time, but instead we would talk about boys and laugh.
Anyway, one day she invited me “a comer”, the main meal at 3PM not dinner, because she was making “fabada” and she knew how much I loved beans. That was the first, of only two times until last week, that I had ever eaten it. I also had it at a restaurant in Madrid once on an outing with a friend, but it was not as good as the one at my friend’s house. All I know is that this meal of beans and meats was seared into my brain. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – peasant food is the best food.
This is why I was particularly excited to find a recipe for fabada in the José Andrés cookbook my wonderful sister-in-law gave me for Christmas, and I endeavored to make it for New Year’s Eve. I have a bit of a kamikaze tendency to try new recipes whenever I have company over. In hindsight, it isn’t very smart, but I have been lucky so far. This time was no exception. The fabada was excellent.
“What is in a fabada?” you ask. I’ll tell you.
First, you have to start with the fabes, the beans used for this particular dish, themselves. Despite the similarity in the name, these are not “fava beans”. These are beautiful, big and buttery white beans, the best of which are grown in Asturia. When I told my aunt I would be making them, she asked me if I had gotten the “real beans“. “Sí tía,” I responded. “Son carísimas!” she exclaimed. Yes, they are expensive, and even more so when they are imported from Spain, where they are already pricey, to the USA. “Cuanto te costaron?” she asked. How much had I paid for them. They cost $27 for a half kilo, but they were well worth it. That is twice as much as they cost in Madrid, according to her.
First thing was first – soaking them overnight. The fabes were already quite large in their dried state, but they were humongous by the next morning. I kept one out for comparison, and my daughters got a kick out of seeing the difference. That night I didn’t only soak the fabes. I also soaked judías (or frijoles) negras, for some nice moros con cristianos, and some garbanzos which I cooked with spinach. There was no lack of fiber in our diet New Year´s Eve.
Fabada also has chorizo, morcilla (blood sausage – my absolute favorite) and tocino (salt pork). All this is stewed with onion, garlic, pimentón (paprika) and azafrán (saffron) to create a one pot meal of tremendous proportions. Cooked well, with good ingredients, caring for it and skimming it as it simmers, you will make a hearty but sublime meal. My fabada beans, eaten alone, were buttery and had absorbed the flavor of the meat and broth in which they cooked. Stew it carelessly and you will remember the meal not only for its tastiness, but also for the lingering reminder of what you ate, from both extremities…
Once the meat and fabes were cooked, I removed the meat and cut it into human proportions. I served each guest a bowl of the soup and fabes with a little of each meat in the bowl. Everyone loved it. In truth, it was an easy meal to cook, but not inexpensive. Purchasing imported products does run up the bill, but it also makes a tremendous difference in the taste and the quality of the dish. I recommend splurging on the ingredients if you can. It will be well worth it.
¡Que aproveches! Enjoy!