Fèves aux Lardons
Pairing your book with your trip is an important task. Even when my backpack is stuffed and I know I won’t have oodles of time to read because I’m going to be visiting every church in Barcelona, I have to pack at least a mini bookshelf. Although racing through Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy while sunning (ok, shading) on the beach may be an impossible combination to beat on the life satisfaction meter, one of my favorite ways to forge a successful match, in general, is to overlap a book’s setting or subject with the place where I’m heading.
Here are a few of my favorite combinations from past trips:
The Sacred Valley in Peru + Mark Adams’ Turn Right at Macchu Pichu
Morocco + Tahir Shah’s The Caliph’s House
A couple weeks ago, I was collecting possibilities for our recent vacation to France, Spain, and Portugal (about which more soon) when I saw I’d missed the mark in terms of locality. The book I was already reading took place in North Carolina and the one on deck would transport me to Dubai. But then, at the last minute, I borrowed an audiobook from the Brooklyn Public Library, another Peter Mayles one but this time a novel called The Marseille Caper. Halfway through the actual journey, we boarded our train from Barcelona to Marseille, and I pressed play.
I looked out at the marshy coast and the inland pastoral scenes as the story began. To be honest, the caper of the title didn’t fully deliver, but that hardly detracted from the sublime experience of previewing the city of my approaching arrival through the book’s pretty well drawn characters. Mayles, I can tell, loves food, and some of the best scenes take place in the restaurants of Marseille and Cassis. I took notes, and I think I loved Marseille more for seeing it through the filter of Mayles’ words.
Anyway, the best food scene of all in the book isn’t at a restaurant–it’s something homemade. On the plane of the very rich man behind the whole caper, our protagonists are served freshly made fèves aux lardons, or fava beans with bacon. Its simple preparation–bring the beans just to a boil before draining them; crisp up fat lardons of slab bacon; mix together–is narrated in such detail and is enjoyed with such gusto that I recreated it as soon as we got home.
The dish is French vegetable cuisine at its best: equal parts bacon and vegetable. I added a smidgeon of lemon juice to cut the bacon fat, but without that this is a two-ingredient dish, very perfect for spring wherever you are and whatever you are reading.
- 2 pounds fresh fava beans
- ¼ pound slab bacon, cut into cubes
- about ¼ teaspoon fresh lemon juice
- Shell the favas of their outer shell. Place the beans in a saucepan of cold water over high heat. As soon as it comes to a boil, drain the beans into a sieve. Let the beans cool just slightly, then pop each bean out of its shell into a bowl.
- Put the lardons in a frying pan over medium heat. When they're crispy and rendered, 7 to 10 minutes, pour the lardons and the fat over the shelled favas. Toss, then season with the lemon juice. Eat immediately.