Wed 10 Jun 2009
What do you do when fava beans are in season? (And we are getting to the end of the season for fresh favas.) Well, in our house you make fava risotto, which LL did Sunday night, from a recipe found in Chez Panisse Vegetables by Alice Waters (HarperCollins, 1996), which also uses green peas and tender asparagus tips for a true taste of Spring.
Vicia faba has been a mainstay of Mediterranean cuisine since ancient times. J.G. Vaughan and C.A. Geissler, in The New Oxford Book of Food Plants (Oxford University Press, 1997), report that the earliest archeological findings of the beans date to 6800-6500 B.C. in Israel, and that the plant apparently spread south along the Nile Valley to Ethiopia and eastward to northern India and China, which now, thousands of years later, produces 65 percent of the world’s crop.
Favas are as protected from harm as a Victorian damsel in her multiple foundation garments. First, the bean must be extracted from the long tough pod, which, depending on the species, holds six or eight beans. Once that is done, the bean must be stripped of its pale green skin, which grows increasingly bitter as the season progresses and the plants mature. Very young favas may be eaten with the skin on and in parts of Italy are consumed raw with sharp young cheese. Waters mentions that dried fava beans, which are usually available at Italian and Middle Eastern food-stores, may be soaked overnight, drained and dried and then fried crisp in olive oil; these are served with salt and lemon wedges, as a snack or appetizer.
Anyway, the risotto, for which one makes a fava puree, was wonderfully redolent and sweetly flavored with fresh and mild green vegetable earthiness. It was pretty too, dotted with peas and asparagus and garnished with shaved Parmesan.
I decided that night to try three Soave wines from one producer, and I can already hear you saying, “F.K., forget it, I’m closing up shop here and going to watch reruns of Gilmore Girls. I mean, don’t you know that the Soave region is overextended geographically and overcropped generally and that even the establishment of a DOCG in 2002 not only didn’t improve quality but complicated almost beyond comprehension the minutiae of label designations.”
Uh, well, yes, thank you, I did know that, and I know that reputable producers of Soave wines have a hard row to hoe, I guess literally and figuratively, in persuading American consumers that what they make bears little resemblance to the familiar swill — good name for a rock band — that emanates from the whorish alluvial plains instead of the rigorous hillside vineyards. One of these hard-working producers is I Stefanini, a small estate owned by the Tessari family since the 1950s. Vineyard manager is Valentino Tessari; winemaker is his son, Francesco. Production is about 2,500 cases annually of three levels of Soave: Il Selese is a basic Soave; Monte de Toni is Soave Classico; Monte di Fice is Soave Classico Superiore. Tessari father and son are particularly to be praised for raising the quality of Soave without resorting to oak barrels, the usual procedure in neglected or rising wine regions where producers throw oak at a wine to pump up its appeal to the so-called American palate. These wines see no oak and are all the better for it.
We tried Il Selese and Monte de Toni while cooking dinner, had the Monte di Fice with the risotto and then went back to try the others.
I Stefanini wines are imported by Domenico Selections, New York, and are, sadly, limited in distribution.
I Stefanini “Il Selese” 2007, Soave, made completely in stainless steel and with 10 percent chardonnay blended with the typical garganega grapes, offers an enticing bouquet of stone fruit, yellow plums, lanolin and little waxy white flowers and a zap of spice. Flavors of roasted lemon and lemon curd unfurl hints of peach, spiced pear and dried herbs, and as the wine warms slightly in the glass, it becomes positively summery, with a whiff of meadow flowers and clean earth. All of these qualities are fused and fueled by vibrant acidity. A beguiling Soave for drinking through 2010. Very Good+, and a Bargain at $11 to $13.
Made in stainless steel from 100 percent garganega grapes, I Stefanini “Monte de Toni” 2006, Soave Classico, manages that difficult feat of seeming intense and subtle simultaneously, and in that leap of craft and faith establishes itself as an entity that scarcely exists in the realm of other Soaves. Lovely in tone and character, seductive in texture and remarkably floral is this wine, and yet its dryness and brisk, almost clinging acidity take your palate by surprise, and its layers of dusty minerality announce a serious intention that fortunately does not belie its delicious flavors of spiced lemon and pear. A wonder. Drink (well-stored) through 2011 or ’12. Excellent, and a raving great value at $15 to $17.
I Stefanini “Monte di Fice” 2006, Soave Classico Superiore, is a real mouthful of wine that exhibits the purity and intensity of which the garganega grape is capable, one element of which is, unexpectedly, elegance. Lemon in every aspect — fresh, lip-smacking lemon, roasted lemon, lemon curd and lemon drop — characterize aromas that are permeated by lanolin and white flowers (similar to its younger cousin, Il Selese, but more pronounced) and a prominent mineral quality. An amazing texture that’s almost powdery is enlivened by crisp acid, while a few minutes in the glass reveal notes of lavender, tarragon (for a slight herbaceous touch) and spiced peach. The wine is quite dry, earthy, enclosed in limestone, yet the finish is light, spare and thirst-quenching. Another terrific effort. Drink (well-stored) through 2011 or ’12. Excellent. About $20 to $22.
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