Last month I spent several days in Umbria with a cook and innkeeper named Letizia Mattiacci. One morning a few of us cooked with Letizia, making pasta from scratch and shelling baskets and baskets of fava beans. The resulting dish was well worth all the manual labor.
In fact, the labor was magical all on its own, done on Letizia's porch with its views of the medieval city of Assisi, the strong Umbrian sun warming our shoulders, and some pink bubbly from the local Sagrantino grapes in our glasses.
What is it about cooking in another country? Ok, it's the ingredients for sure—fresh eggs with yolks a yellow so deep you're not sure they're from chickens, favas plucked straight from the garden, even the salt seems different — but there's something else that makes magic. How can you capture the other piece of magic that happens abroad; the elusive feeling of being far from home, not knowing the time or day of the week, soaking up every detail of a stranger's kitchen who is now, because of cooking, a friend.
→ Check out Letizia's Bed & Breakfast, Madonna Del Piatto, for accommodations and cooking lessons in Umbria.
For the pesto: 1/2 cup lightly-packed basil leaves
1/4 cup chopped almonds
2 garlic cloves
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Grated Parmesan, to serve
Bring a large pot of well-salted water (it should taste like the ocean) to a boil. Cook the pasta until al dente, or according to the package instructions or fresh pasta recipe.
While the pasta is cooking, prepare the pesto. In a blender, combine the basil, almonds, 2 garlic cloves, and 3 tablespoons olive oil. Puree until the mixture comes together. Add more olive oil if needed for consistency.
In a saucepan large enough to hold all the pasta, sauté the minced garlic in the 1 tablespoon olive oil until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the fava beans and cook them briefly to coat in oil. Remove from the heat and add the pesto, stirring to combine.
When the pasta has cooked to al dente, scoop out and reserve 1/3 cup pasta water, then drain. Transfer the pasta to the saucepan and add the reserved pasta water. Set the pan back over high heat, and quickly stir until the sauce is partly absorbed by the pasta. Stir in the ricotta. Serve immediately with grated Parmesan cheese.
If you buy fresh fava beans in the pod, you will need about 4 pounds to yield 1 cup shelled and peeled beans. Follow these instructions for peeling. If you can't find fresh fava beans, look for frozen (but note these are already shelled and peeled), or use shelled peas instead.