Favas mean spring to people all over the Mediterranean, and around North America, as well. Not so surprisingly then, this is one of the most classic spring dishes in all of Catalan culture, with origins that go back at least a couple hundred years, if not much further. If you can get them, use spring onions and green garlic to emphasize the spring flavors.
Like seemingly every dish in Spain, everyone does faves a la Catalana a little differently, but the heart and soul of the dish doesn’t change. Some people like to put tomatoes in the sofrito. Some people prefer pancetta to the smokiness of bacon. Some prefer to use a dry or sweet wine, some red, some white, instead of the anise liquor. Some people make a bouquet garni with the herbs that they can pull out before serving. I prefer the extra impact of leaving the herbs in. Exactly which herbs go into the dish depends on which family you ask, but almost everyone agrees on the importance of the mint.
In Catalonia, this dish is usually made with botifarra negra or bull negre, instead of the morcilla called for in this recipe. These are all different types of blood sausages, but the morcilla is much more easily found in America. Good Spanish-style morcilla can be ordered online or found in specialty stores. The other two can be difficult to find, even in Spain, once you get outside of Catalonia. Some folks will add other sausages, but I find them unnecessary.
A lot of home cooks, if not most, in Catalonia don’t peel the favas. I think the dish is infinitely more pleasant to eat if they are peeled, so I always peel them. If the favas are not peeled, you will need to cook them a lot longer, their texture will be leathery, their color will be a dull brownish, and the flavor will be muted. It’s worth every bit of the extra effort to peel your favas and get a more elegant, yet equally soulful and satisfying dish.
Here's a simple video on how to peel favas.
2 or 3 strips of bacon, cut in small pieces
A small drizzle of oil to cook
1 medium onion, peeled and cut in small dice
1 large garlic clove, peeled and minced
2 bay leaves
3 - 4 cups shelled and peeled fava beans
1½ oz (a shot) anise liquor (I prefer sweet, some people prefer dry)
¼ cup water
1 link of morcilla, peeled and cut in ¼” thick slices
Leaves from 3 or 4 sprigs of thyme
A generous handful of mint leaves
Extra virgin olive oil to finish
1. Add a drizzle of oil and the bacon to a cazuela or heavy-bottomed pan. Bring up to temperature on a medium-low flame. Stir continuously until the bacon has rendered out it’s fat and is getting crispy. Add the onions, garlic, bay leaves, and a pinch of salt, and cook, stirring regularly, until the onions are meltingly soft, but not browned.
2. Turn the heat up to medium and stir in the fava beans, followed by the anise liquor and water. Cover with a lid, and cook for 2 or 3 minutes. Remove the lid and stir. There should be only a little bit of liquid left.
3. Stir in the morcilla and the herbs, and continue cooking for another minute or two just to get everything heated through. Taste, and adjust salt if needed.
Remove from the heat, top with a generous dash of good extra virgin olive oil and serve immediately.